Deepening Full Communion: Lutheran bishops for Anglican dioceses?

It was an accidental picnic that first got the Anglicans and Lutherans of Carman, Man., together.

Lutheran pastor Jim Halmarson explained how 12 years ago the town double-booked the local park, so members of his congregation had to flip their burgers alongside the Anglicans. The afternoon of forced fellowship started a three-year process of closer relations, from joint worship services to eventually an amalgamated church, Grace St. John’s Anglican / Lutheran.

These unions develop gradually. In June, Canadian Anglicans and Lutherans deepened their Full Communion relationship when their two national meetings voted to allow ministers to hold offices in each other’s denominations.

On the Anglican end, this means that Lutherans can hold offices governed by General Synod, for instance as a member of the triennial General Synod meeting. It may also mean that a Lutheran could hold higher offices within the church.

“It would now be possible for a Lutheran to be elected an Anglican bishop, which would be interesting,” said Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of Faith, Worship, and Ministry for the Anglican General Synod. In order for this to happen, provinces and dioceses would need to amend their canons, a step that some have already taken.

Rev. Halmarson welcomed the news. “I think it gives us a diversity for discovering leadership at different levels,” he said. He also thinks there’s a “good possibility” that a Lutheran bishop may be elected in an Anglican church (or vice versa) during his lifetime.

“It’s going to be the growing pain thing of just getting used to each other enough that we say, ‘yeah, this can happen.’ I think we’re at a time in the church when people are more open to some of these ideas.”

At a Lutheran synod several years ago Rev. Halmarson asked if he could nominate an Anglican to be synodical bishop. The answer was “no,” but today it might be “yes.”

An ongoing process

The two denominations have been in a “full communion” relationship since 2001, when the Waterloo Declaration asserted their similarities and allowed interchangeability of clergy. Confirmations had already been mutually recognized since 1995.

The Waterloo Declaration didn’t address the question of clergy holding offices in the other denomination. “I think that the resolution [at General Synod 2007] grew out of the lived experience of clergy being able to serve in each other’s churches,” said Rev. Barnett-Cowan. “Practical questions come up as the relationship is being lived into.”

Rev. Barnett-Cowan and Archbishop Fred Hiltz, elected Primate at the June General Synod, have served on the Joint Anglican Lutheran Commission, as well as on the Anglican Lutheran International Commission.

Every six years, as in 2007, the national meetings for Anglicans and Lutherans coincide. This year they celebrated a water-themed Anglican-Lutheran Day. Fellowship with the Lutherans was the main reason General Synod was held in Winnipeg this year.

More fellowship will take place on Sept. 29 at the ordination of the new Lutheran national bishop, Susan Johnson, in Winnipeg. Archbishop Hiltz and Bishop Colin Johnson of Toronto, a member of the Joint Anglican-Lutheran Commission, will participate by laying hands on Bishop Johnson.

Living out full communion

At the grassroots church level, Anglican-Lutheran relationships have been developing organically—like at accidental picnics. No one is keeping track of exactly how many joint parishes there are across Canada, or how many Lutheran and Anglican ministers are serving in the other’s churches. The denominations are so closely bound that the term “ecumenical” isn’t even used.

Rev. Halmarson said his own Anglican-Lutheran background was mainly “circumstantial.” His home church is St. Stephen’s and St. Bede, a Winnipeg church with a mixed Anglican and Lutheran congregation. Currently he serves at Christ Church Anglican in Saskatoon, and his wife is the Lutheran bishop of Saskatchewan.

He admits that her position influenced his choice to serve at an Anglican church. “I didn’t want my wife to be my boss everywhere,” he laughs.

Rev. Halmarson has enjoyed working out the quirks of being Lutheran in an Anglican church. Parishioners have commented on his “Teutonic orderliness” but also the richness of the Lutheran confession and absolution.

Every day he drives by a Lutheran church to work. A hundred years ago the churches were divided by culture and language, but now Rev. Halmarson wonders, “does it make sense to have an Anglican and a Lutheran congregation a block away?”

Throughout his Anglican-Lutheran ministries he has enjoyed the process of meshing traditions. In Manitoba, he developed an Anglican-Lutheran confirmation liturgy with Bishop Don Phillips of Rupert’s Land. “Don and I sat down and rewrote the liturgy to represent some of the best of both traditions and the things that are common, and we worked hard at it. It was a fun process. It takes effort.”

This sort of openness and creativity keeps the relationship flourishing. “I think we live comfortably within our traditions, and think that we’re going to lose if we come together,” said Rev. Halmarson. “From my perspective the opposite is true, that we actually gain far more than we would lose. The most often stated phrase from Jesus is ‘do not fear.'”

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