Confessing our Faith Together: Living and Growing into Full Communion

For Immediate Release: November 6, 2019

For its 2019 meeting, the Lutheran-United Methodist Coordinating Committee/Joint Commission, the body charged with oversight of the full communion relationship between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and The United Methodist Church (UMC), gathered in the autumnal beauty of Mohican Lodge in Ohio to pilot an ecumenical formation event. Seizing the opportunity given by the contiguity of their territories, UMC Bishop Tracy S. Malone (East Ohio Conference) and ELCA Bishop Daniel Beaudoin (Northwest Ohio synod), both members of the committee, each brought to the retreat seven diverse leaders, ordained and lay. The goals were for all participants to experience and learn more about the other tradition, while also seeing their own heritage anew in relation to the other—and then to brainstorm creatively about what United Methodists and Lutherans could do together in faithful witness and mission in the various contexts of Ohio communities.

The retreat time was framed by worship. Holy Communion was celebrated in each tradition; evening prayer from Lutheran resources concluded the first day’s work; and a UMC service of sending closed the event. A Thanksgiving for Baptism opened the first time of worship, and participants returned to the water recalling their baptism as they prepared to leave. A lively hymn sing underlined that both are singing communities.

Each session included time for both presentation and discussion. The study proposing full communion between the ELCA and UMC, Confessing our Faith Together, was examined. This text identifies both affirmations of Christian faith common to Lutherans and United Methodists and also deep resonances between their distinct histories. Differences between these churches need not be divisive, it shows, but instead can offer the gifts of mutual challenge and complementarity.

Together, participants examined biblical texts, especially from Romans, through the lens of each tradition and through hymns inspired by the scriptural words. They explored formative writings from each community, notably ones which invited connections between the faith struggles of Martin Luther or John Wesley and their own experience. They looked at the paradoxical assertions of Luther’s “Freedom of a Christian” and at Francis Willard’s 19th-century calls for inclusion of women’s wisdom in all aspects of the church. Everyone found something new to learn from the brief accounts of the history, theology and polity of each community.

Finally, all participants were asked to identify ways that they could move forward in their local contexts and in their own ministry situations. A wide range of commitments emerged, from state-wide initiatives to local relationships. Energy for action arose from the discoveries of the retreat: “What we have in common is so much more important than our differences”; “we could accomplish so much more in mission together than we can separately.”

After 10 years in full communion, there remains much to do in living out the relationship in the communities of Ohio. Bishop Beaudoin’s story of closing an ELCA congregation emphasized the costs of living separately: when asked why they had not collaborated in ministry with full communion partner congregations around them, now also closed, these grieving members replied, “We didn’t know we could.”  How can others be encouraged to imagine such collaborations—not only when the future is desperate but as possibilities beckon?

In evaluating the event, members of the Committee/Commission celebrated the enthusiasm of the participation and the variety of the proposed future actions. They determined that a future resource drawing on preparation for this retreat should be prepared with flexibility in mind. The next step for the committee, then, is to produce a polished and adaptable resource, including both text and video from this event, which can be modified to different formats, leadership and participation. The next meeting of the commission will aim to finalize this resource.

The Commission is co-chaired by the Rev. Dr. L. Edward Phillips (UMC) and the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Linman (ELCA), who was unable to attend this event. Other Lutheran members are Bishop Daniel Beaudoin and Dr. Norma Hirsch; UMC members are Bishop Tracy S. Malone and Ms. Marie Ström. The Rev. Dr. Kyle Tau (UMC) and Dr. Kathryn Johnson (ELCA) were staff participants, assisted by Ms. Linda Tate.