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Anglican - Lutheran Relations: an update

  An edited transcription of a talk given by the Rev Dr Charlotte Methuen on 7 March 2009 to the Annual General Meeting of   the Anglican-Lutheran Society

  1. Tracing Anglican-Lutheran relations

This paper will offer a brief overview of Anglican - Lutheran Relations, looking at where we’ve come from and where we are now in different areas of the world, and drawing out some of the questions that the Anglican Lutheran International Commission are grappling with at present. These centre around concepts of unity, questions of how different relationships relate to one another, and thinking about how to define relationships in places where there’s not much formal relationship but a lot of close working together. I should note from the outset that this is going to be a rather Anglican take on things; ideally my paper would be complemented by a Lutheran take on these same questions.

a) Some earlier history
As a historian, I always like to start with the history, and the prehistory of Anglican-Lutheran is pretty substantial. Discussions took place between Henry VIII’s theological advisers and theologians in Wittenberg in 1535 and 1536. These discussions achieved a set of theological articles [the so-called Wittenberg articles can be found in Gerald Bray (ed.), Documents of the English Reformation (Cambridge 1994), 119-161], but otherwise had few results, not least because Henry VIII wasn’t very fond of Luther. Nonetheless, through the early years of Henry VIII’s Reformation and even to some extent under Edward VI, it is possible to observe some very interesting cross-fertilisation between Anglican ideas and Lutheran ideas. Relations between Anglican and Lutheran churches can be observed through the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, not least because of the developments in the English monarchy which bring Georg of Hannover to be King of England. Some German Lutherans, for instance, work in the context of Anglican mission organisations. Between 1841 and 1886, there is the interesting example of the Jerusalem Bishopric which was administered jointly by the Church of England and the Church of Prussia who took it in turns to appoint a bishop. [It should be noted, however, that the nineteenth-century Church of Prussia was not strictly Lutheran but already a United Church. The Church of Prussia withdrew from the Jerusalem Bishopric in 1886; the Anglican bishop continued to be appointed by the Church of England until well into the twentieth century] There was a lot of tension within the Church of England around the Jerusalem Bishopric, arising not least from Tractarians who were not in favour of deepening the relationship between the Church of England and the Church of Prussia, but nonetheless the Jerusalem Bishopric offers an interesting example of how the Church in Germany and the Church in England found a common and a shared mission in Jerusalem.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, we begin to see emerging, particularly out of the missions, the sense that confessional difference is deplorable. Missionaries are increasingly concerned that they are proclaiming the word of God in Africa, in India, and elsewhere, but then telling their converts that they have to decide whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, or another denomination. This leads to calls for united missions and for the discovery in a new way of Christ’s call to unity. Alongside that, and indeed remarkably early, some formal discussions between the Anglican Communion as a whole and various other churches, including the Old Catholics as they take shape in the 1880s, the Moravians, and in particular the Church of Sweden. The discussions with the Church of Sweden reach a formal agreement in 1909, which recommends mutual Eucharistic hospitality, invitations to preach – that is, hospitality of pulpit and altar – and the participation of bishops in episcopal consecrations. That is, the steps that more recent agreements view as important moves towards establishing a relationship of communion, and therefore as steps towards full visible unity, are already being defined in the very early twentieth century. Similar discussions with Anglicans and Old Catholics, and with Anglicans and Orthodox, lead to some very interesting developments in the 1920s and 1930s. In North America, and particularly the USA, the early twentieth century witnesses deepening relationships between Anglicans and Presbyterians, which come close to the establishment of a united church just after the First World War. However, those discussions between the Church of Sweden and the Anglican Communion yield what is really the first real bilateral agreement, although because of the intervention of the First World War the agreement is not actually affirmed by the Anglican Communion until 1920. There is some pressure on the 1920 Lambeth Conference to affirm this agreement, because in early 1920 Herbert Hensley Henson, Bishop of Worcester and soon to be Bishop-Elect of Durham, received an invitation to a consecration in Sweden, and announced to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, that he intends to accept it, even though the 1909 agreement had not yet been received by the Lambeth Conference.

I start with the history because I think it is worth remembering that ecumenical endeavours don’t just start in the 1960s. In our ecumenical work we stand in a long tradition, and that tradition shapes how we think about what we can and cannot do, how we think about unity, and what we think our goals are. In terms of goals, I think it significant that the first real pan-Protestant moves towards thinking about the Church unity (or Church union as it was often referred to at the time), emerge in that period immediately after the First World War. As we have seen, questions of unity were already around, but after the First World War, there is a real and urgent sense for many people in Europe the Churches have failed. This is picked up to some extent by the Roman Catholic Church, not least in the establishment of the feast of Christ the King, and there are some really developments within Catholicism as it is faced with the question of how it should respond to the totalitarian regimes which emerge in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. However, in many ways that the beginning of multilateral ecumenical dialogues – the Faith and Order and Life and Work movements – are rooted in that sense after the First World War that friendship, brotherhood – to use the language of the time – had broken down, and that the Protestant Churches needed to find ways of preventing that ever happening again. In many ways the focus of ecumenical developments between the wars tends to be multilateral, and related to Faith and Order and Life and Work, rather than bilateral. There are some exceptions for Anglicans, such as discussions with the Orthodox, and the signing of the Bonn Agreement between Anglicans and Old Catholics in 1931. However Anglicans and Lutherans tend to be more involved in the larger movements, sometimes complemented by theological discussions between particular partners, such as the Anglo-German theological conferences which took place between 1927 and 1921. Under the auspices of the Church of England’s new “Council on Foreign Relations” further bi-lateral dialogues start taking place through the 1930s, as the Church of England drawing up an agreement with the Finnish Church in 1933-34, and then with the Churches of Latvia and Estonia in 1936 and 1938. This latter agreement founders because of the Second World War and the subsequent political developments. Nonetheless, immediately before the Second World War, there quite a range of Anglican-Lutheran discussions have already taken place, particularly in Europe.

b) Global Angican Lutheran relations since 1970
Let us now make a leap into the 1980s. The immediate post-war period sees some really important developments, many of which are multilateral – the growth of the World Council of Churches – so that relationships between individual churches are conceived in the context of seeking some kind of pan-Protestant, or pan-Protestant and pan-Orthodox, unity. This work, and not least the publication of Baptism Eucharist and Ministry in 1982 to wide acceptance, lays some very important foundation stones for the bilateral dialogues which start to take place in the 1980s.

The first international Anglican-Lutheran conversations took place between 1970 and 1972 and gave rise to the Pullach Report (1972) [the agreements emerging from Anglican-Lutheran dialogues since the 1970s have been collected in one volume by the LWF and the Anglican Communion: Anglican-Lutheran Agreements: Regional and International Agreements from 1972 to 2002 (Geneva 2004)], which noted considerable agreement and encouraged regional meetings and regional exploration of how to take relationships forward. What I am not clear about on the Lutheran side is the extent to which the ability to engage in global Anglican-Lutheran conversations was contingent on the existence of the Lutheran World Federation as a body that could enter into proper global discussions with the Anglican Communion, but I suspect that it was of central importance. Pullach encourages both regional and international exploration of relationships, so that what follows is a kind of parallel development of the emergence of regional agreements which are then considered in the international context. This pattern is important because it reminds us that international relationships draw on and articulate relationships which are already in existence in much more local contexts of parish, diocese, region, so that the global and international discussions need always to be rooted in and reflecting on what is happening, to try to express those developments theologically, and to articulate them in more formal agreements.

The next international report, the Cold Ash Report (1983) of the Anglican-Lutheran Joint Working Group took the significant steps both of defining the goal of Anglican-Lutheran dialogue as ‘full communion’ and of exploring what that meant:

By full communion we here understand the relationship between two distinct churches or communions. Each maintains its own autonomy and recognises the catholicity and apostolicity of the other, and each believes the other to hold the essentials of the Christian Faith [Cold Ash Report § 25; Anglican-Lutheran Agreements, 76].

Here we are looking at an understanding of full communion which defines it as autonomous bodies which come together to work together. Full communion implies that “subject to such safeguards as ecclesial discipline may require, members of one body may receive the sacraments of the other”; such a relationship therefore enables eucharistic hospitality, mutual recognition of baptism: a mutual invitation to each other’s sacraments. It implies that “subject to local invitation, bishops of one Church may take part in the consecration of the bishops of the other, thus acknowledging the duty of mutual care and concern.” This confirms that a relationship of full communion will involve the mutual participation in consecrations that we’d already started to see in the early twentieth century, and that implies mutual recognition of ministries. Full communion implies that “subject to church regulation a bishop, pastor/priest or deacon of one ecclesial body may exercise liturgical functions in a congregation of the other body if invited to do so, and also, when requested, pastoral care of the other’s members.” Here we are starting to find encouragement for exchange of ministries. Finally “it is also a necessary addition or complement that there should be recognisable organs of regular consultation and communication, including episcopal collegiality.” On this model, the churches do not just sign up to this relationship, but it should also be being deepened by discussion and reflection.

Cold Ash is really important in 1983 as setting up a model of what might be possible. Internationally, globally, Anglicans and Lutherans then move on to talk about episcope, which results in the Niagara Report (1987). On this question, which remains one of the major stumbling blocks for relations with Anglicans for some Lutheran and many United churches, a very significant recent development has been the LWF’s Lund Report. The next phase of global Anglican-Lutheran discussions, which produced the Hanover Report (1995) considered the diaconate, which looked primarily at the challenge to Lutherans to think about the diaconate as an ordained ministry. The diaconate remains a really important theme, as we consider the challenge of the Lutheran understanding of diakonia to Anglicans, and explore how Lutheran understandings of diakonia relate to Anglican understandings of mission.

Most recently, the report Growth in Communion (2002) of the Anglican Lutheran International Working Group offers a very interesting snapshot of Anglican-Lutheran relationships across the world in 2002. More importantly it looked at the different regional agreements which had emerged by then, asking what model of unity are they working with and whether these models were compatible. Growth in Communion concluded that they are, although unfortunately the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations (IASCER) was less convinced. The question had become important because by the time that ALIWG was meeting, a number of really important international agreements had emerged.

c) regional Anglican-Lutheran agreements
The first of those was not explicitly between Anglicans and Lutherans but between the Church of England and the German Protestant Churches (the EKD): the Meissen Agreement, which was drawn up in 1988 by the Church of England, the Federation of the Evangelical Churches in the German Democratic Republic, and the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), drawn up in 1988 and ratified in 1991 by the Church of England and the EKD (which by the included the Federation of the Evangelical Churches in the German Democratic Republic). At a colloquy held in Meissen to mark the twentieth anniversary of the agreement, the co-secretaries described how the process was driven by a deep frustration that Christians who were working together for peace could not celebrate the Eucharist together. The drafting of the Meissen Agreement began by looking what people in the Church or England and the German Protestant Churches were already doing together, and exploring what the implications of that might be. And emerged was a strong sense the Church of England and the EKD should be inviting one another to receive communion in each other’s churches, a strong sense that pulpit hospitality was absolutely fine, that ministry of the Word was not an issue, but a realisation that the sticking point was episcopacy. What Meissen did was effectively to take the Cold Ash definition of the implications of full communion and explore how much of that is possible. Effectively Meissen says “We can go a long way along this road, but we can’t go all the way to exchange of ministries.” That was problematic for those who believe that Eucharistic hospitality must be rooted in exchange of ministries and can only represent the culmination of the process and not a step along the way, as is, for instance the case in the ecumenical work of the Roman Catholic Church. The Meissen Agreement therefore manifests a particular understanding of an incremental movement towards unity which was in conflict with understandings of unity that were shaping other dialogues.

The next important agreement is the Porvoo Common Statement (1992) between the British and Irish Anglican Churches and the Nordic and Baltic Lutheran Churches (with the exception of Latvia and Denmark). This is an agreement of communion. By 1992 British ecumenical discussions had begun to avoid the term “full communion”, on the basis that full communion will only be possible at the eschaton. Porvoo allows for mutual exchange of ministries, and ecclesially its implication is that the Nordic and Baltic Lutheran Churches have exactly the same relationship to the Church of England, or to the Episcopal Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales, or the Church of Ireland, as any other member church of the Anglican Communion does. This is a relationship of communion. It means that if a priest ordained in the Church of England moves to Sweden, and fulfils the canonical requirements of that Church (and speaks Swedish), they can function and be licensed as a priest in Sweden without needing to do anything except go through their processes of appointment and admission. Similarly priests from the Nordic and Baltic Lutheran Churches (except Latvia and Denmark) can – and do – serve in the British and Irish Anglican Churches.

Finally, in this phase of European agreements, the Reuilly Common Statement (1999) was signed between the Lutheran and Reformed Churches of France and the British and Irish Anglican Churches. This is an agreement on the Meissen model; it does not bring about a relationship of communion.

In North America those European Agreements were followed by Called to Common Mission (1999/2000) in the United States which was the fruition of a long and complex process between the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the Episcopal Church, at that stage still ECUSA. Like Porvoo, Called to Common Mission is an agreement of what in North America was still being called ‘full communion’. It is an agreement, therefore, which allows interchange of ministers. There was some debate particularly in the Church of England about whether CCM was pushing towards a unity that was not quite there yet, and therefore some concern about the understanding of unity that underlay it. The tensions in this discussion raise similar issues to those which were raised about Meissen.

The final agreement in this phase was Called to Full Communion, other wise known as the Waterloo Declaration, between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Anglican Church in Canada which was made in 2001.

Called to Common Mission, the Waterloo Declaration and Porvoo all, ecclesially speaking, from the Anglican point of view, bring the Lutheran partner churches into a relationship which for the Anglican partner which is the same as that Anglican partner has with other member churches of the Anglican Communion. However, these are not Communion-wide agreements, which raises some very interesting questions about their extent. What does it mean, for instance, for me as a priest ordained in the Church of England if I go to Canada. Can I function in the same way in the Lutheran Church in Canada as I could technically in the Church of Sweden? What happens if I go to the USA? What is my relationship to the ELCA? What relationship does the Episcopal parish in Frankfurt have to the Finnish or to the Swedish congregations in Frankfurt? These three regional agreements of communion have raised some very interesting questions around what has come, using a mathematical term, to be known as transitivity. This is one of the questions with which the current Anglican Lutheran Commission is grappling.

There are many other initiatives and relationships across the world. In 2001 the Anglican Church in Australia and the Lutheran Church of Australia covenanted for mutual recognition and mutual reconciliation in an attempt to get discussions between their two churches put on a firmer theological footing. However, at present that initiative is not progressing very fast. Also in 2001, a meeting of the All-Africa Anglican-Lutheran Commission had some very fruitful discussions and intentions for moving forward; however it then did not meet again until 2008.

2. Current Relationships

Despite the stalling of its conversations, the experience of the All-Africa Anglican-Lutheran Commission (AAALC) highlights some important issues. The current Anglican Lutheran International Commission (ALIC) had its first meeting in Tanzania and one of the things that struck us was just how much fairly informal interrelationship there is between the Churches there in terms of movement of church membership and an awareness of a shared mission (although that impression must be somewhat relativised by Michael Westall’s paper). At their 2007 meeting, members of the AAALC noted considerable diversity in their relationships but also identified “a number of practices which already reflect mutual recognition, support and common mission.” It would appear to be the case in many of the regions of Africa where both Churches are represented that their relationships are not characterised by formal agreements but simply by working together to tackle the problems with which they are confronted. In South Africa and to some extent in Botswana there are some real efforts to face questions like HIV/AIDS, poverty together. This is a unity which emerges in tackling questions of mission and diakonia, and such joint work in Africa or also in South America may offer some very helpful pointers towards how we might reconcile different understandings of diaconate and diakonia within Anglicanism and Lutheranism.

However, there is a more fundamental recognition here. There common practices “already reflect mutual recognition, support and common mission.” The terminology is important. The discovery of practices which already reflect mutual recognition, support and common mission points towards a relationship that already exists, even if it have not been formalised. This language seems to me very similar to the kind of process that the Meissen Commission went through in 1988. They discovered things were already happening, and they very much saw the Meissen Agreement as a way of articulating those things theologically. ALIC is considering ways in which we can help Churches which don’t necessarily have either the interest or the resources to engage in the kinds of processes that go into drawing up formal agreements as we’ve done in Europe or North America to articulate their relationships in ecclesial terms. Formal agreements are processes that take time, energy and money, and in many parts of Africa the priorities for time, energy, and money are rather different. So rather than trying to force all Anglicans and Lutherans to engage in dialogue, ALIC hopes to draft protocols or guidelines which will effectively say: “If you are already doing this in your life together as churches, then it implies that your relationship is such that you can do this in terms of mutually agreed eucharistic hospitality, preaching or exchange of ministries.” The African experience – which has parallels with joint ministries in South America – is prompting us to discover practical ways of recognising work that is already happening on the ground.

What this implies is that communion is deepened not by having formal conversations but by doing things together. In many ways, this takes us back to the kinds of models of ecumenism that emerged after the First World War in the context of the Life and Work Movement. ALIC’s work on these questions will, I think, help us to articulate the absolutely vital relationship between Life and Work and Faith and Order (to put it in technical ecumenical terms).

On another level, this is also happening in Canada, where the Waterloo Agreement is producing some very exciting and productive results. There are considerable initiatives in Canada including “joint church planting and shared, collaborative ministry”, which actually means joint parishes. This is unity expressed not only in formal but in practical terms. A real metaphor of this was the initiative of two parishes in a town in Northern Canada: both the Anglicans and the Lutherans have wooden church buildings, and the congregations simply moved one of the buildings to stand next to the other building and joined them together, so they now have one church building in their joint parish. There is a real sense in Canada, I think, that the Anglican Church and the Lutheran Church are becoming one Church. Like Called to Common Mission, the Waterloo Agreement was viewed with a certain amount of suspicion by some ecumenical theologians because it seemed to leave rather a lot open. Effectively, it just said: “We are going to be in full communion.” The Canadians are living that out means that they are exploring what happens when the two churches simply do as much together as they can. And they are doing things together. They are running seminaries together and the theological educators say that it is really interesting to see how confessional identity starts to shift and change when you are really training people together in the context of two Churches which are also trying to work together. The two churches are now working on drawing up educational standards for ministerial training (and there the Lutherans are presenting some real challenges to Anglicans!). They are working on questions of joint stewardship, on questions of sexuality. There is a real effort to work together and the two heads of the Churches are trying to make statements together whenever possible, remembering, of course, that they have relations also with other Churches. So there have been some real developments in Canada as a result of starting the process, entering into relationship, and seeing what happens. I think what we’re seeing in Canada is a real exploration of the consequences of communion in two Churches which are more or less the same size and which have geographical overlap. Both of those aspects offer real advantages to a proper exploration of a relationship of communion.

A question arises here which is beginning to present itself in Canada, but which also emerges from the experience of much older united churches like the Churches in North and South India. To what extent do world communions actually hinder the case of Christian unity? If what we are observing in Canada are two Churches which are in the process of becoming one Church, where does that leave them in terms of their global identity, in terms of their identity within the universal Church? The North and South India Churches tend to send representatives to several global communions. These local initiatives are actually raising some really important questions for our global identities and some challenges to us to take our rhetoric of unity more seriously.

The situation in the USA is a little less promising than in Canada. There are some similar initiatives, but there also seems to be a sense in some areas of “We’ve signed our agreement so that’s that done!” Nonetheless, there are also joint seminaries in the United States, and other initiatives. In particular, the Episcopal Church seems to have learnt a lot from engaging with Lutheran understandings of diakonia, and this experience could be important for other Anglicans.

Initiatives in other areas of the world highlight some complicated questions about jurisdiction, particularly amongst Lutherans. For instance in Japan there are five Lutheran Churches so one of the challenges in Japan is first of all for the Lutherans to work out their own relationships, so that they can decide how to talk to the Anglicans. Here we see an interesting difference between the Anglican Communion and the LWF. On the whole the Anglican Communion has worked pretty hard only to have one Anglican jurisdiction in any one place, although they were unsuccessful in some parts of the world, most notable continental Europe, where there are four Anglican jurisdictions [this pertains to Churches which are part of the Angican Communion In some areas of the world, most notably the USA, there is also a number of Continuing Anglican Churches which have splintered off as a result of disputes, generally but not only over the ordination of women]. This has been a relatively simple task since most Anglican mission was initiated either by the Church of England or by the Episcopal Church, so that there is not the same proliferation of different Anglican Churches in Africa and Asia as there is of Lutheran Churches born of Lutheran mission from different areas of Europe, which can leave (for instance) a Swedish Church and a Danish Church and a Norwegian Church all coexisting in the same country, as in Japan, and also in India. First of all the different Lutheran churches have to agree about what it means to be Lutheran in a particular place and only then they can really start engaging in other ecumenical relationships. Looking at the situation in Japan and India throws up some interesting questions about the different understandings of jurisdiction in Anglicanism and Lutheranism.

In Europe, I think we are only just beginning to understand the full implications of Porvoo. The danger, because our churches do not have any real geographical overlap, is that this becomes a purely formal agreement but that not much is really done about it. In places where these is direct contact between the Porvoo churches the implications are beginning to be explored. There are some interesting initiatives in Finland, for instance; in Sweden a joint chaplaincy has been established in Gothenburg; in England there are attempts to bring Lutherans into a much closer relationship with the Church of England. However, there are still some fairly major questions around in Europe about relationships between Anglicans and other Lutheran Churches. Porvoo, Reuilly and Meissen do not cover all the Lutheran Churches by any manner of means and there is some important work to be done about thinking about how to explore these discussions, especially in the context of a fairly fluid situation. For instance, the Lutheran Church in the Netherlands has recently amalgamating with the Reformed Church, which means that future discussions there will probably need to take a more Meissen/Reuilly approach. The Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (formerly the Leuenberg Fellowship) may offer a way of moving forward, but it is operating on a rather different understanding of what the basis of communion and unity, rooted in Article 7 of the Augsburg Confession, and this is not enough for Anglicans.

All this points to the current concerns of the Anglican Lutheran International Commission, as it prepares to meet for in the fourth of what is probably going to be a six-year cycle. In ALIC, we are trying to monitor what’s going on in different areas of the world. We are grappling with this question of transitivity between different agreements. And we are working on ways of recognising formally work that is already happening, relationships that have already been built, through joint mission or diakonia. It is really important, especially for those of us who spend a lot of time engaged in ecumenical dialogue, to remember that what we are doing is very much about recognising and deepening relationships, and not simply about formal agreements. Therefore we are working on how to allow existing relationships to be affirmed without forcing churches which don’t have the resources to jump through the hoops of formal dialogue. We are looking at relationships between diaconate and diakonia. Of course we’re still talking about episcopacy, and we have welcomed the Lund Report with great enthusiasm, and hope that Anglicans will feel able to follow that lead. In all of that, I think we are also grappling once again with concepts of unity: do we start with a theoretical theological understanding of all the things we have to have before we can move forward or do we look at the ways in which we are moving forward and look at ways to endorse those? Which really means, I think, that we are looking at different understandings of the sacramentality of the Church, and what that means for our two Churches.

I want to close with a very brief quote from ‘Growth in Communion’ that I think informs what we’re trying to do. It’s part of a reflection on Jesus’ call that ‘all may be one, even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us’ [John 17:22], that great call to unity. The Report comments: “ecclesial unity is … a deep and continuing sacramental expression of life together in the Triune God. Such ecumenism is much more, then, than simply meeting minimum standards for mutuality, removal of ecclesiastical obstacles, or the overcoming of previous difficulties between or among traditions.” [Growth in Communion § 182; Anglican-Lutheran Agreements, 323] Such unity seeks to be “the reality of the divine life ecumenically lived out.” It is that reality which must inform our mission and our proclamation of the Word of God [Growth in Communion § 183; Anglican-Lutheran Agreements, 323].

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