Leaders of The United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are discussing ways the two denominations can work together as they further explore what it means to be in full communion with each other.
Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church hosted a day-long meeting with ELCA representatives in early July to outline next steps in the relationship, which began when the two denominations joined in full communion in 2009.
The Rev. Dr. Stephen Bouman, Executive Director of Congregational and Synodical Missions, and Evelyn Soto, Director of Unit Operations and Programs at ELCA, met with senior leaders at Discipleship Ministries, including leaders of Leadership Ministries, New Church Starts (Path 1) and Young People’s Ministries.
“We share a lot of issues in common that are very, very important to us,” said Doug Ruffle, Associate Executive Director of Path 1, who hosted the meeting. “They include race relations in the United States, issues of poverty, ways to better equip leaders for leadership in the 21st century and creating new places for new people going forward.
“We're going to be taking some small action steps at this point, but I think that the affirmation, at least from our standpoint, is that we realize that this is more important than any single denomination,” Ruffle said. “There's something at stake here, and it has to do with the clarity of the Gospel in the world. That's the point, and full communion is about that.”
Both denominations have gifts to give and to receive, Bouman said.
“The body of Christ will be richer because of this,” Bouman said. “It's not a mixing and matching of bureaucracies. We're all dealing with the same questions ... so why not think about this together?”
Local congregations of both denominations, along with United Methodist annual conferences and Lutheran synods, have worked together in various ways for years, Bouman said.
“So what full communion means is how do we accompany what is already happening? How do we get that story out? How do we encourage it? How do we invest where it could happen better in another place?” Bouman said.
Lutherans and United Methodists are looking for places of congruence where people can get together for conversation, Soto said.
“We've talked to a lot of people (at Discipleship Ministries) who relate to a lot of what we do in congregational and our synodical mission unit. We are looking for places that might lead to intersection, connection, collaboration and maybe mutual partnership in ministry endeavors,” she said.
ELCA was formed in 1988 with the merger of three Lutheran churches – The American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the Lutheran Church in America. The church of more than four million members has nearly 10,000 congregations across the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. ELCA traces its roots back through the mid-17th century, when early Lutherans came to America from Europe, settling in the Virgin Islands and the area that is now known as New York.
United Methodists and U.S. Lutherans began an official dialogue in 1977 which led to the UMC General Conference approving the full communion agreement in 2008. When the official full communion was finalized in 2009, it was the first time that the ELCA had moved into a full communion relationship with a church larger than itself. The UMC is ELCA's sixth and most recent full communion partner.
In addition to ELCA, the United Methodist Church also is in full communion with the Pan-Methodist denominations (African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the African Union Methodist Protestant Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church). The UMC and the Episcopal Church also are moving toward full communion and currently are in a period of Interim Eucharistic Sharing together.
The mission of Discipleship Ministries is to support annual conference and local church leaders for their task of equipping world-changing disciples. An agency of The United Methodist Church, Discipleship Ministries is located at 1908 Grand Ave. in Nashville, Tenn. For more information, visit www.UMCdiscipleship.org, the Press Center at www.UMCdiscipleship.org/about/press-center or call the Communications Office at (877) 899-2780, Ext. 1726.