Committees hear testimony on possible full communion with Bavaria’s Evangelical Lutheran Church

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Apr 15, 2024

Bishop Mark Edington of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe spoke in favor of Resolution A009, which would create full communion between The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, during the April 12 hearing of the Ecumenical & Interreligious Relations legislative committees.

[Episcopal News Service] Members of the Ecumenical & Interreligious Relations legislative committees heard testimony April 12 during an online hearing on a resolution that would establish full communion between The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria (in German, the Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche in Bayern), that often is noted by its initials, ELKB.

The hearing on Resolution A009 drew seven people, six of whom were participating from Europe, speaking in favor of full communion through the document “Sharing the Gifts of Communion,” also known as the Augsburg Agreement. This resolution was carried over from the 80th General Convention to the 81st convention because of the reduced number of legislative days in 2022, resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Full communion agreements require changes to the canons of The Episcopal Church (Title 1, Canon 20, Section 1) and currently exist with seven other churches: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Moravian Church-Northern and Southern Provinces; the Mar Thomas Syrian Church of Malabar, India; the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht; the Philippine Independent Church; the Church of Sweden; and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

Full-communion partnerships allow members of both churches to receive the sacraments in the other body, and it also allows for interchangeability of clergy, allowing them to officiate at services and celebrate the sacraments with equal authority in either church.

One of the questions about full communion with the ELKB has centered on the role of bishops in that church. The presence of “the historic episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration” is one of the requirements set forth in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which is the framework for how The Episcopal Church and other denominations can reach full communion.

The Rt. Rev. Mark Edington, bishop of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, expressed his “fervent” support” for the resolution and noted the numerous studies that had explored the nature of the ELKB episcopate. He said that after all of those, he has become very comfortable that “the sign of the historic episcopate [is] present throughout their long history.”

Edington noted the Episcopal congregations in Munich, Nuremburg and Augsburg are the only Anglican presence in Bavaria, which is one of 16 federal states in Germany. Those three congregations all meet in ELKB buildings.

Eugene Schlesinger, a member of the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, noted that over time any concerns about the historic nature of the ELKB episcopate would be removed, as Episcopal bishops lay hands on ELKB bishops during ordinations and thus create a “shared history of succession.”

The Ven. Walter Baer, a Convocation deputy and a member of the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, said that connections between the two churches dates to 2013, when then-Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and then-Landesbischof (Regional Bishop) Heinrich Bedford-Strohm of the ELKB met informally. A formal dialogue with a formal dialogue between the two churches began in 2018.

Two leaders within the ELKB also spoke in favor of the resolution. Theologian Oliver Schuegraf, who also is an honorary canon theologian of Coventry Cathedral in England, was one of the people who drafted the Augsburg Agreement. He said the ELKB has both a historic and an evangelical episcopate – historic, in that it is passed down over time, and evangelical, in which preaching the Gospel has taken place unbroken from generation to generation. “It is absolutely clear that we have episcopé” he said, although it is exercised both by bishops and other church structures.

Maria Stattner, the ELKB ecumenical officer, gave an overview of those other structures: Synod, Executive Committee of Synod, the Council and the regional bishop, who is elected for a 12-year term by the Synod. The ELKB already has adopted the Augsburg Agreement, she said, and if General Convention adopts this resolution, “we hope to have reason to celebrate the agreement of full communion and to fill it with life.”

Two people from the Church of the Ascension in Munich spoke in support of the resolution. The Rev. Daniel Morrow, its priest-in-charge, told the committees that his congregation has met in an ELKB church for over 50 years. “We work on projects together, we minister together, we pray for each other weekly. And we love each other,” he said. He acknowledged that there are differences in structure between the two churches but urged the committees “not to equate unity with uniformity.” Being in full communion, he said, “will make a day-by-day difference for the Episcopal churches in Bavaria.”

Loren Stuckenbruck, a member of Ascension and a professor of New Testament and early Judaism at the University of Munich’s school of theology, urged passage of the resolution for practical reasons. Episcopalians wishing to study for ordination would be able to take classes and undergo some formation through the Lutheran theology school in Munich, which would be more cost-effective than other options. Having an ELKB pastor able to officiate at Episcopal services, or vice versa, in their shared building, would provide sense of familiarity and continuity during times when clergy are absent, he said.

The agreement also calls for bishops of each church to regularly take part in ordinations of the other, but Edington noted that most likely would involve ordinations taking place in Europe.

Resolution A037, which is identical to A009, was proposed by the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations. Bishop Douglas Sparks of Northern Indiana, chair of the bishop’s committee of the Ecumenical & Interreligious Relations legislative committee, said he thought that when the committees discuss these resolutions in an upcoming meeting, they would be combined into a single resolution to be submitted to the convention with the committees’ recommendation.

Legislative committees include parallel committees of deputies and of bishops, which, though distinct, typically meet and deliberate together. Committees can recommend that General Convention adopt, reject or take no action on a resolution, and every resolution must be voted upon by the convention. Resolutions also can be placed on each house’s consent calendars, in which resolutions are not individually debated on the floor but are voted on together.

Because A009 would amend the canons, it also would need to be reviewed by the legislative committees on Constitution & Canons.

The General Convention is the governing body of The Episcopal Church. Every three years it meets as a bicameral legislature, dividing its authority between the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, and is composed of members from each diocese.

—Melodie Woerman is a freelance reporter based in Kansas.