United Methodists and ELCA Lutherans celebrate full communion agreement in the Twin Cities
With a joint service more than a year in the making, members of United Methodist Church (UMC) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) congregations worshipped together on November 1, All Saints’ Sunday, at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. This public worship was the first of its kind in the country, according to ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson.
At its churchwide assembly in Minneapolis in August, delegates of the ELCA overwhelmingly ratified a full communion agreement with the United Methodist Church. The UMC General Conference had adopted the same proposal at its national assembly in 2008.
A full communion agreement is not a merger of the two major denominations. It simply establishes that the two church bodies identify in one another a common Christian faith; agree to mutual recognition of baptism and the sharing of Holy Communion; worship together and recognize each other’s ordained ministers for service in either church; express a common commitment to evangelism, witness, and service; engage in common decision making on critical matters; and agree to a mutual lifting of criticisms that may exist between the churches.
In his sermon, Hanson explained that “the relationship of full communion is not for the sake of our mutual survival.” Prognosticators have predicted the end of denominations for some time, according to Hanson, “but full communion is not about two church bodies deciding to share one tomb,” referencing the gospel reading about Jesus raising Lazareth from the dead.
Minnesota Conference Bishop Sally Dyck added that the agreement “communicates to the wider community the unity we have in Christ Jesus; a goal that we don’t always keep in focus when we are busy struggling to figure out how to maintain our individual churches in various communities.“
Saying that “full communion is not a sign of mummification,” Hanson added a challenge: “Our mission statement must be to take away the stone, unbind [those appearing dead], and let them go.”