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WordAlone leaders clarify report of letter to Episcopal bishops

by Betsy Carlson (Editor, WordAlone Network)

June 20, 2003

WordAlone President Jaynan Clark Egland and Director Mark Chavez sent a letter and the WordAlone Theological Advisory Board’s “Admonition for the Sake of the True Peace and Unity of the Church” and related documents to bishops and the Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations of The Episcopal Church USA in March. They had sent a letter and the “Admonition” to all bishops in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Church Council in December last year, and early this year to ELCA congregations and many other ELCA leaders.

A May 27 report by the ELCA News on a meeting of the ELCA’s Lutheran Ecumenical Representatives Network (LERN) cited Egland and Chavez’s letter to the Episcopal bishops, but does not mention that the letter was a cover letter for sending the “Admonition.” The report stated that ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson told the ecumenical representatives that it would be appropriate for their group to respond to the WordAlone letter.

The LERN board then drafted a letter to Episcopal Ecumenical representatives and the Lutheran-Episcopal Coordinating Committee, the ELCA reported.

The ELCA reported that Egland and Chavez had asked the Episcopal leaders to “express support for changes in the implementation of Called to Common Mission” at this year’s ECUSA General Convention. Called to Common Mission is a full communion agreement between the ELCA and the ECUSA that requires ordinations to be done by bishops, and all new bishops to be ordained/installed by three bishops in historic succession.

According to the ELCA, the LERN letter stated their support of the work of the coordinating committee “in helping the entire church to live into this [agreement] with open communication, mutual understanding, great sensitivity and patience.”

“While we did write to the Episcopal bishops, among others, we did not hope to subvert ecumenical relations between our churches. We hope to strengthen them by fixing a flawed agreement,” said Chavez. “We forwarded to them, and others, the ‘Admonition,’ which we see as a formal document asking the ELCA to change CCM ordination requirements.

“The ‘Admonition’ expresses the theological board’s concern that the ELCA remain true to the Lutheran Confessions by allowing new pastors and bishops to freely choose whether or not to be ordained by bishops in the historic episcopate. Neither pastors nor bishops should be required to seek exceptions to the ordination requirements of CCM. Ordination choices should be simple options.”

At present new pastors can go through a process of requesting an exception from the requirements by making application through the bishop of the synod to which they are assigned. New bishops are not given an option as to whether they wish to be installed into the historic episcopate.

In addition, the ELCA reported, the LERN board evidently saw the WordAlone communication as providing an opportunity for the group’s members to speak with their synod bishops and ask them to talk to their Episcopal counterparts about opposition within the ELCA to CCM.

Chavez commented: “It would seem if anyone were to speak with the Episcopal bishops about opposition within the ELCA to CCM, it would be WordAlone. The basic problem is once again that the views which Lutherans worldwide have confessed—it is not necessary for bishops to do all ordinations, and it is not necessary for new bishops to be ordained by three bishops in historic succession—are excluded from formal discussions between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church.

“Always excluding the primary Lutheran point of view does not help our ecumenical relations, and will only add to the growing distrust and division within the ELCA.”

Editor’s note: to read the cover letter from Egland and Chavez to the Episcopal leaders click here.