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United Methodists, Lutherans to study draft document

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The Rev. William Douglas Mills

Dec. 1, 2005

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) — Members of the United Methodist Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are being encouraged to study a draft statement of full communion between the two denominations.

A study and discussion guide, which includes the draft of “Confessing our Faith Together: A Statement toward Full Communion by the ELCA-UMC Bilateral Dialogue,” is now available.

A joint Lutheran-United Methodist dialogue team prepared the statement and resource guide and will review responses when it meets in October 2006, according to the Rev. W. Douglas Mills, an executive with the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

“We hope that lots of people will read this,” he said in a Nov. 29 interview. The commission hopes to identify and target 10 or more local churches that can partner with ELCA congregations to consider the document, he said.

“It’s especially effective if congregations have partnered to study it together ? but there’s no reason why an individual can’t respond,” Mills added. State or regional ecumenical councils also may want to use the study guide, he suggested.

An “interim Eucharistic sharing” agreement with the United Methodist Church was overwhelmingly approved by ELCA representatives at a churchwide assembly in August. The agreement also had been approved by the United Methodist Council of Bishops in May.

The terms of the agreement foster “mutual prayer and mutual support, study together of the Holy Scriptures as well as the histories and theological traditions of both churches, and joint programs of theological discussion, evangelical outreach and social ministry endeavors.”

The agreement also encourages joint services of Holy Communion following guidelines established by both churches and looks forward to “the future possibility of a relationship of full communion.”

In its introduction to the study guide, the joint dialogue team noted the ties that Lutherans and United Methodists already share.

“Lutherans and United Methodists have been well acquainted with one another. Our relationship, locally and nationally, has been forged through friendships, family ties, congregations, ecumenical councils, colleges and seminaries. We are, in countless places, partners in ministry.”

Over the last three decades, dialogue teams have explored the sacrament of baptism (1977-79) and issues of episcopacy (1985-87). “Significant convergence around these topics pointed toward a Third Round in order to explore the two churches’ understandings of Eucharist.”

Dialogue resumed in 2001, and team members unanimously voted in August 2004 to submit a proposal for Interim Eucharistic Sharing for consideration by each church.

“We have discovered a profound convergence in the witness of our two churches,” said the team, led by ELCA Bishop Allan C. Bjornberg and United Methodist Bishop Melvin G. Talbert. “The Lord’s Table, Baptism, and Word are at the heart of our churches’ life, precious gifts and fundamental means of grace. We hope that in the 71 paragraphs of ?Confessing Our Faith Together’ you will be able to trace our joyful journey of discovery.

“We have learned that ecumenical conversation means giving up the demand that everyone speak only our language and use only our words,” the team said. “We have also found that ecumenical conversation leads to deeper understanding of our own faith tradition, while opening our eyes to the unending riches of the Holy Spirit’s work in and through the whole church.”

Although there is no specific timetable for reaching full communion, Mills said it could be considered by the 2008 United Methodist General Conference.

For more information, contact Mills at dmills@gccuic-umc.org. The study and discussion guide also can be found online at http://tinyurl.com/ahfj8 on the ELCA Web site.

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Resources
Lutheran-Methodist dialogue
Council of Bishops