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Pact opens door for United Methodists, Lutherans

The Rev. Anita Strommen, a Lutheran pastor, leads
the United
Methodist congregation in Clyde, Kan.
A UMNS photo courtesy of the ELCA.

By Susan Hogan*
July 14, 2009 | CLYDE, Kan. (UMNS)

The Rev. Anita Strommen is a Lutheran pastor.

Her congregation is United Methodist.

The pairing reflects a growing effort by some Christian denominations to share ministry resources as never before, including clergy.

“The congregation worried at first about having a pastor that wasn't Methodist,” said Strommen, a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

“For me it hasn't been an issue,” she said. “I know what Lutherans teach. I know what Methodists teach.”

The ELCA has entered relationships -- known as “full communion” -- with five church bodies since 1997. A decision on teaming with United Methodists is expected at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August.

United Methodists approved the plan during the 2008 General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body. The agreement notes differences in the denominations' theologies, practices and traditions. It states they aren’t “church-dividing.”

“The Holy Spirit is opening a door of possibility,” said Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops. “I hope that we walk together through that door.”

Already a practice

If approved, the vote will make official practices already at play in Clyde and elsewhere.

Bishop Mark Hanson, presiding bishop
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church
in America, preaches at the 2008
General Conference. A UMNS
file photo by Paul Jeffrey.

“We're all trying to get to heaven, so I see no problem with Lutherans helping us out,” said Elaine Cyr, co-president, Clyde United Methodist church council. “We still use the Methodist hymnals. We still hear the gospel preached. Pastor Anita is terrific.”

About 650 people live in Clyde, a north central Kansas town rimmed by corn and wheat fields. Strommen grew up 13 miles away in Concordia, Kan. Her husband, the Rev. David Strommen, is pastor of that town's only ELCA congregation. Because of their three young children, the part-time position in Clyde was ideal for her, Anita Strommen said.

That's not to say the transition has been free of tension or learning curves. Strommen had to become familiar with United Methodist worship and terminology.

Members said their biggest adjustment is Strommen’s “Lutheran style” of prayer. She often turns her back to worshippers to face a large cross. ELCA pastors aren't required to pray that way, though that's how some were trained, said the Rev. Jennifer Ollikainen of the ELCA's Worship and Liturgical Resources unit.

“It took some getting used to, but it doesn't bother me now,” said Clyde organist Donna Jones. “Some people want her to turn back around. They say that's how Methodist pastors pray, and this is a Methodist church.”

Focus on mission

The focus of full communion agreements is mission, church leaders said. The interchangeability of clergy is one aspect. Congregations might combine resources for a range of ministries, such as mental health services, missionary outreach or domestic violence prevention.

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The Rev. Sue Mackey, a United Methodist pastor, serves ELCA congregations in Whitman and Michigan, N.D. She said she leads a Methodist service because “the Lutheran liturgy was uncomfortable for me.”

Full communion agreements involve ordained clergy. Some United Methodist ministers, however, are licensed but not ordained. One is Catherine Moorehead, who leads a joint Lutheran-United Methodist service for about 10 people in Lavina, Mont.

After the Lutheran church shut down years ago, members said working with Methodists was a way their congregation could survive. That meant, however, adapting to a Methodist worship service. Grape juice is given at Holy Communion rather than wine.

“From a pastoral standpoint, it makes more sense to worship together,” Moorehead said. “To have a Lutheran congregation of six and a Methodist congregation of four in a town of 200 is plumb stupid.”

The ELCA’s current full communion partners are the Moravian Church, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Reformed Church in America.

*Hogan is a staff member of the ELCA News Service, which distributed this story.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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