Proposed resolution would allow exchange of Episcopal, Lutheran deacons

By Melodie Woerman
Posted May 1, 2024

Kathryn Lohre (bottom), executive for ecumenical and interreligious relations in the office of ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, urged members of the Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations legislative committees to support a resolution on the exchangeability of deacons between The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Photo: Zoom screenshot

[Episcopal News Service] Five people who testified at the April 26 hearing of the Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations legislative committees urged approval of Resolution A048, which would allow for the exchangeability of deacons between The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Legislative committees include parallel committees of deputies and of bishops, which, though distinct, typically meet and deliberate together.

In 2000, General Convention adopted the full-communion agreement between the Episcopal and Lutheran denominations known as “Called to Common Mission,” which allowed for priests and pastors to function in the two churches. The ELCA had adopted that agreement in 1999.

Deacons were not included at that time because ELCA deacons were considered lay people who had been consecrated, or set apart, for a ministry of word and service. Episcopal deacons are ordained by bishops for a ministry of service. For many, it is a first step toward ordination as priests. The ELCA voted in 2016 and 2019 to establish ordination as the entrance rite for their deacons, who now are considered clergy.

Two staff members of ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton spoke in favor of the resolution. Kathryn Lohre, executive for ecumenical and interreligious relations, and the Rev. John Weit, a deacon who is executive for worship, described how this proposed agreement would strengthen the understanding of diakoneo, or the ministry of service, in both churches. Lohre said that by acting first on deacon exchangeability, the ELCA hoped The Episcopal Church quickly would do the same.

Passing A048 would be the “last piece of Called to Common Mission” that would bring all orders of ministry into alignment, the Rev. David Simmons, ecumenical officer for the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee and a member of the Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers, told the committees.

Also testifying in support were the Rev. Lori Mills-Curran, a deacon who is the former executive director of the Association for Episcopal Deacons, and Eugene Schlesinger, a member of the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations.

The implementing document that enables Resolution A048 notes that there are differences in how deacons of the two churches function liturgically. Episcopal deacons are permitted to administer the bread and wine during Communion and can officiate at some worship services, while Lutheran deacons do neither. The document urges “a spirit of graciousness and commonality, pastoral sensitivity and clarity of expectations” when deacons serve outside their own church and especially in ecumenical events.

The committees said members would consider the resolution at an upcoming online meeting.

—Melodie Woerman is a freelance reporter based in Kansas.