Sermon marking 10 years of Anglican-Lutheran Full Communion

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada

May 1, 2011

It’s not often that the people see the preacher carry a shovel into the pulpit. But this is a very special shovel for with it, a month ago today, National Bishop Susan Johnson and I planted a beautiful maple tree on the grounds of a retreat centre called Queen of Apostles Renewal Centre in Mississauga, Ontario. The planting was in celebration of the 10th Anniversary of the 2001 Declaration of Full Communion between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC).

Susan and I were assisted in planting the tree by the co-chairs of our Joint Anglican Lutheran Commission (JALC) who had guided the governing councils of our two churches through an historic four-day joint meeting focussed on deepening our relationship in Full Communion.

Everyone gathered watered the tree with water brought from oceans and lakes and rivers and streams and falls from all across the country. Gathered around the tree, we prayed it would always be, for us, a sign of our rootedness in the Reformation, in the faith and tradition of the early church, and in the prayer of Jesus that “they all may be one.” (John 17:21)  We prayed that this tree would always be a sign of our growth in Full Communion, rising to new heights and branching out with ever broadening expressions of our common life and witness in the service of the Gospel. It was a wonderful moment filled with gratitude, joy and hope in God’s abundant grace working in us more than we can ask or imagine.

Full Communion in Canada has taken hold in a number of ways. The National Bishop and I speak with one another every month. We share joint messages for Christmas and Easter and release joint statements on many issues, most recently on poverty and homelessness in Canada. Our bishops meet together every fall and enjoy good collegial relations. The staff of our national offices (located in Toronto and Winnipeg) are getting to know one another and indeed serving one another’s conventions and synods. As I mentioned a moment ago, we’ve had our first joint meeting of the governing councils of our churches. Part of our time was given over to considering a theme and shape for National Convention and General Synod which will meet jointly in July, 2013 in Ottawa, the nation’s capital.

At the local level, Full Communion is expressed through guidelines for common worship, participating in one another’s ordinations of bishops, priests and pastors; serving in one another’s churches; shared ministries; and joint church plantings.

Every year there is a joint National Worship Conference and every second year, a lively event called Canadian Lutheran Anglican Youth (CLAY). One thousand strong in attendance, it is by far the largest, most vibrant and hope filled expression of Full Communion.

As we thank God for these many blessings we pray for grace to honour our words from The Waterloo Declaration that “we are ready to be co-workers with God in whatever tasks of mission serve the Gospel.”

Here in the United States of America, you have, I am sure, similar stories to share through the inspiring leadership of National Bishop Mark Hansen and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the encouragement and challenge offered to your churches by the Lutheran Episcopal Coordinating Committee. From your declaration of Full Communion, “Called to Common Mission,” I particularly like the following statement:

“We do not know to what new, recovered, or continuing tasks of mission this concordat will lead our churches, but we give thanks to God for leading us to this point. We entrust ourselves to that leading in the future.”

So dear friends, there is a heartfelt joy among us today. And I cannot help but think there is some heartfelt joy in heaven as well. Think of Jesus – the Ever-Eastering Christ, the Ever-Interceding Lord. Think of his prayer that they all may be one. Think of the delight this moment brings to his heart, the smile it brings to his face, for what we celebrate today is a growing movement toward that end for which he prays and eagerly awaits – the healing of his Body the Church, the re-gathering of his followers into one Eucharistic Fellowship in which he nourishes us for our work in the world.

The Gospel reading for today reminds us of our Lord’s Prayer. It reminds us that unity among the believers is not an end in itself; it is for the sake of the world. “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21)

The New Testament reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians speaks of the faith we share – “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all, one body, one Spirit, one hope of our calling” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

The vision is breathtakingly awesome. At times our capacity to fully comprehend that holy mystery is within reach and at others so far beyond it. Even in moments like this when we celebrate what we have discerned of our common call and witness in the Gospel, we acknowledge that the Spirit has so much more to yet reveal with respect to the truth and love in which Christ would have us live and work together.

I’ve always appreciated the words of Richard Holloway, one time Primus of Scotland who said at the occasion of the signing of The Porvoo Agreement among the British and Nordic Churches, “Let us rejoice for what has already been accomplished, but let us not deny ourselves a twinge of holy impatience for the greater things this day promises.”

In the next five to 10 years what will Full Communion look like in Canada?  In the United States? What will it look like among the four churches across borders?  How might our commitments support and encourage similar agreements in other parts of the world?  How will they serve the wider ecumenical movement and the fuller realization of the gift of unity in the whole church?

The Old Testament reading sets before us today the design of God’s great love for the world – God’s desire that we come into his presence, learn his ways, and walk in his paths, living respectfully and peacefully with one another. It calls us to be about the restoring of relationships, the announcing of the reign of God on earth as in heaven. It’s helpful to have a reading of this kind in such a service as this, for it reminds us of what was said of Full Communion in one of the earliest reports emerging from International Anglican Lutheran Dialogue, The Cold Ash Report of 1983. There it says, “Full Communion implies that where churches are in the same geographic area they are working together in common worship, study, witness, evangelism, and the promotion of justice and peace.”  And so it is that as one looks around the world there are a number of different areas in Anglican Lutheran conversations:

  • tackling poverty and HIV/AIDS together in Africa
  • addressing violations of human rights together in Latin America
  • and together  partnering to work for reconciliation in The Middle East

Indeed, the central focus of the International Commission for Anglican Lutheran Relations is “diakonia” – the servant ministry of the church.

In understanding the breadth and depth of that ministry, Lutheran theologian Kjell Nordstokke writes, “While diakonia begins as unconditional service to the neighbour in need, it leads inevitably to social change that restores reforms and transforms. It boldly addresses root causes and is change-oriented.”

In the spirit of prophetic diakonia, the four national bishops call our churches in Canada and the U.S. to give attention to

  • building economies that are compassionate and sustainable
  • addressing systemic issues of poverty
  • enhancing social safety nets
  • reforming immigration policies
  • renewing relations with the First Nations People in these lands
  • stewarding the resources of the earth in a way that demonstrates our care and concern for those who come after us.

Jesus’ prayer, the Church’s faith, God’s dream for this world – that’s what we’re about as churches in Full Communion.

On this historic occasion, in this holy moment, “We put our trust and hope in Christ, who has led us thus far in these relationships. With boldness we venture now with a time of breaking new ground, planting more seeds, and tending them in the spirit of authentic partnership in the Gospel.”

The shovel is actually a very good sign of this venture. For it reminds us of St. Paul’s teaching

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Corinthians.3:6)

In God’s name, may we never be afraid to break new ground;

May we be faithful in watering the seeds others have planted, and diligent in planting more seed.

May “we always rejoice in what Christ will yet do, intent in making all things new.”

Amen (Hymn 240, Common Praise)

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