Ecumenical partnerships were a major focus at the 16th Biennial Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), as Anglicans joined their Lutheran full communion partners in commemorating 500 years since the onset of the Protestant Reformation.
Members of the Anglican Church of Canada who attended the National Convention, which took place in Winnipeg from July 6-8, included Archbishop and Primate Fred Hiltz as well as Cynthia Haines-Turner, Anglican representative on the ELCIC National Church Council (NCC).
“It was amazing … Everybody left feeling really great,” Haines-Turner said, noting the many ecumenical guests and general outward focus that reflected the vision of the Lutherans to be a church “in mission for others”.
“The whole convention was just that focus, being in mission for others … It was really a spirit-filled convention, and that seemed to be everybody’s response as they were leaving.”
Pastor Susan Climo of the Church of the Holy Spirit of Peace, an Anglican-Lutheran congregation in Mississauga, Ont., said the gathering was “very uplifting, very encouraging, perhaps even more so this time than in some conventions past … There was a very hopeful feeling about the event.”
In a statement ripe with parallels to ongoing debate in the Anglican Church of Canada over proposed changes to the marriage canon, Climo added, “I think that having gone through some fairly difficult gatherings where we were dealing with some hard issues relating to human sexuality … and come through that—still not necessarily all agreeing, but recognizing that there’s far more that unites us—we were able to sort of turn a page and start to look towards other important issues that face the church and the wider community.”
One of the convention highlights was an ecumenical panel speaking on the significance of the Reformation commemoration.
In addition to the Primate, speakers included:
- Moderator Jordan Cantwell from the United Church of Canada;
- Kathryn Johnson, director of ecumenical and inter-religious relations for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America;
- Executive Director Willard Metzger of the Mennonite Church Canada;
- Moderator Peter Bush of the Presbyterian Church in Canada;
- Archbishop Richard Gagnon from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops; and
- Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, an Anglican who attended the convention in her capacity as president of the Canadian Council of Churches.
“The Lutherans had decided some years ago internationally that they would make that [anniversary of the Reformation] an ecumenical commemoration—that they didn’t want it be sort of Lutheran triumphalism, ‘rah rah Martin Luther’, but rather recognized that this was an event that affected the whole church,” Barnett-Cowan said.
During the panel, speakers touched on the fact that many Christian denominations, such as those in the Orthodox tradition, do not talk of a “Reformation”, but rather a process of “renewal”, and of the need for all churches to be renewed by the work of the spirit.
“Just by having this particular commemoration in this way, it invited everyone to be part of thinking about what the church needs to be to be whole and well and in a good place,” Barnett-Cowan said.
Pastor Jeffrey Smith of All Saints Lutheran Anglican Church—a newly merged congregation in Guelph, Ont. that unites the former St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and St. David and St. Patrick’s Anglican Church—called the ecumenical panel “exceptional”.
“In all the years I’ve been in ministry, I don’t remember a panel to that extent,” said Smith.
“Just to gain their insights—wow,” he added. “I was blown away.”
The most visible moment for Anglicans at the convention was the address by Archbishop Fred Hiltz offering greetings on behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada.
Since the Waterloo Declaration in 2001 established the full communion relationship between the Anglican Church of Canada and the ELCIC, Archbishop Hiltz said, that partnership has “borne fruit beyond our imagining, both nationally and locally.”
The Primate emphasized the “strong and steadfast of leadership” of ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson and the collegial relationship between the two church leaders. “Not only is Susan a treasure within your own church,” he said, “but she is held in high regard within ours.”
Archbishop Hiltz praised the ELCIC for its work at the convention towards establishing guidelines for interfaith dialogue—particularly its resolution for the ELCIC to reach out to Muslims—and its gestures of reconciliation towards Indigenous peoples, reflecting the 94 Calls to Action made by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
He thanked the ELCIC and United Church of Canada for their presence throughout the Anglican Church of Canada’s difficult deliberations over a proposed amendment to change the marriage canon allowing for same-sex marriage—reminding Anglicans, he said, that “there is life beyond this debate”.
Reiterating the “difficult” decision to postpone the joint assembly between the Anglican and Lutheran churches that was originally scheduled for 2019 in Vancouver, the Primate said that he and Bishop Johnson were glad to call for a joint assembly in 2022.
“Though that decision to postpone was hard and disappointing and I think disheartening for some, I do believe that the capacity to even engage such a conversation is a sign of the maturity of our relationship as churches in full communion, and our respect for the very nature of full communion.”
Full communion partnership—and friendships
In his address, Archbishop Hiltz pointed to All Saints Church in Guelph as an example of the merged Anglican-Lutheran parishes that have become increasingly prevalent, praising the work of the Joint Anglican-Lutheran Commission in establishing a working group to examine the polity of each church with respect to such joint parishes.
The deepening bonds between the two churches were visible throughout the convention, from the affectionate description of Archbishop Hiltz by ELCIC members as “our Fred” to friendships between Anglicans and Lutherans at all levels.
“It was good again to renew the friendship and the work and bonds that we have together … and just to talk about our two traditions,” said Pastor Smith of All Saints, who sat with Anglican representative Haines-Turner as fellow members of the NCC.
For her part, Haines-Turner—who introduced a motion on interfaith relationships with NCC member Marc Jerry—exemplified the sense of unity that prevails among many Anglicans and Lutherans.
“So much of the time when I’m with the Lutherans, I don’t feel like I’m ‘the Anglican’. I feel like this is my church too … I think it’s a sign of the richness and the naturalness of the relationship between the two churches that when I’m here, I just feel like one of the crowd.”