Cooperative, practical mission the goal of Anglican-Lutheran conversations

Anglicans and Lutherans are smack dab in the middle of a discussion that aims to improve their work in tangible ways around the globe.

Members of the Anglican-Lutheran International Commission tour a 7th century Hindu temple site. Bishop Devasahayam is at the centre, with Archbishop Hiltz and the Rev. Barnett-Cowan behind on the right. DR. KENNETH APPOLD
Members of the Anglican-Lutheran International Commission tour a 7th century Hindu temple site. Bishop Devasahayam is at the centre, with Archbishop Hiltz and the Rev. Barnett-Cowan behind on the right. DR. KENNETH APPOLD

This conversation is the five-year Anglican-Lutheran International Commission (ALIC), and it had its third annual meeting April 28 to May 5 in hot and bustling Chennai, India. Anglican Church of Canada Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, serves as the commission’s co-chair, and the Rev. Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, Director of Faith, Worship, and Ministry at General Synod, is a consultant. Sixteen other ministers and academics serve on ALIC.

ALIC is a continuation of worldwide Anglican-Lutheran conversations that have been going on since 1970. The two denominations share common roots and in many countries they are in formal covenanted relationships. In Canada, the 2001 full communion agreement between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) allowed interchangeability of clergy. “The goal of [the ALIC] conversations is to make regional agreements global,” explained the Rev. Barnett-Cowan in a later interview.

The focus of this ALIC meeting was diakonia, a word more common in Lutheran circles that means practical service in the name of the gospel. This can work out in many ways, including cooperation in international development work. Soon the Anglican Church of Canada’s relief and development organization (the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund) will meet with the ELCIC’s Global Hunger and Development Appeal to discuss this kind of coordination.

The Primate said that this kind of joint action is what ALIC aims for. “When mission happens because churches are working together on the ground, ecumenism makes a whole pile of sense,” he said in a later interview. “If it’s just about lofty statements and agreements that don’t touch the ordinary person, it doesn’t have the same force.”

In Chennai, commission members learned about many social problems that the churches could address together. The Primate said he was particularly moved to learn about the Dalits, the lowest caste in Indian society “who are treated as nobodies.” Many live and work on the streets and suffer severe forms of discrimination.

Commission members learned more about Dalits by spending time with a Dalit bishop, Bishop V. Devasahayam of Madras (Church of South India). The bishop welcomed the members into St. George’s Cathedral and presented some of the church’s ministries, including a vacation Bible school and an outreach to the mentally challenged.

The Anglican and Lutheran churches in India are not currently working on joint projects, although the Church of South India is a union of Anglican, Methodist, Congregationalist and Presbyterian traditions. The United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India, which hosted ALIC this year, is an ecumenical Lutheran church, brought together from different countries’ missions.

A highlight of this ALIC meeting was the reactivation of the All-African Anglican-Lutheran dialogue. At the first ALIC meeting, held in Tanzania, the commission heard that this dialogue had not met for six years, mainly because they were so busy responding to the HIV/AIDS crisis. But at the Chennai meeting, members announced that the conversation had been rekindled, with specific plans to meet and cooperate for the next several years.

Archbishop Hiltz said the commission heard this message from the All-African commission: “We want to make sure that we’re on the ground working together working against issues of poverty.”

At the end of the five years, ALIC will have more plans for how Anglicans and Lutherans can cooperate in their diakonia work. This may include concrete steps for how Anglican and Lutheran churches in other countries can enter into covenanted relationships. On the international level, there will be plans for joint projects between the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran World Federation.

The commission will meet next between May 18 to 29, 2009, at a location to be determined by the Lutheran World Federation.

Read the full text of the ALIC communiqué here.

Interested in keeping up-to-date on news, opinion, events and resources from the Anglican Church of Canada? Sign up for our email alerts .