To live together as Lutherans and Episcopalians do

Over a decade ago the Episcopal Church has entered into a full communion agreement with the Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). But how does this agreement function in practice? Neva de Mayo came to Poland for the Congress of Lutheran Women. In the interview given to Dariusz Bruncz she talked among other things about the cooperation of Lutherans and Episcopalians on the local level. Below we reprint this fragment of the interview. (We alone are responsible for all typos and other imperfections as we prepared the transcript.)

And how does it look like in your parish, which operates in practice within the structures of two denominations – the Lutheran and the Episcopal Church?

The Presiding Bishops of the two churches, Bishop. Mark S. Hanson and Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

We had financial problems, neither one of us could afford a pastor. So by being willing to come together, and each pay half, we could afford to salary a pastor. So that’s what we did. Our pastor had to be approved by the Episcopal Church as well as the Lutheran Church and she still has to, how to say it… answer to the Episcopal bishop as well as the Lutheran bishop, as to how her church is doing and what she is doing. In just a week or so she will attend the Episcopal, I think they call it a convention, to represent her congregation, so I know there’s interactions. I’m also serving at the Episcopal Diocesan Council, I have voice but no vote. That way they have a Lutheran representative so they can get the Lutheran viewpoint on the things the Episcopal Church is doing. I know that our pastor, if someone is an Episcopalian and they want her to do a wedding structured like an Episcopal would have it, will do it for them that way. So it’s really the pastor that has the real challenge to learn and make sure she offers each denomination what they expect. But on the Sunday morning, one week we meet in the Episcopal Church, the next we meet in the Lutheran church building, and whichever building we are in, she will use their liturgy. And the main difference I see is that Lutherans sing a lot of their liturgy and the Episcopals read theirs. Often we will have a lay reader and when she reads the prayers, or he, the Episcopals will have a section where they pray for the dead, and of course Lutherans don’t do that. And I don’t know if this was officially decided or unofficially decided, but the Episcopals, when they get to those paragraphs, skip them. And now coming up soon we, the Lutherans, will celebrate Reformation Sunday. The Episcopalians don’t celebrate that day, but they celebrate All Saints Day, so we will have two celebrations. And if the Lutherans want to participate in All Saints Day, we can, and if the Episcopals want to celebrate Reformation with us, they can.

You have described extensively various liturgical practices resulting from different types of spirituality. Do you see what your parish practices as something that can be confusing or rather inspiring? You were raised in the Baptist church and several years ago converted to Lutheranism. And if you combine all these experiences of different forms of spirituality of people often coming from many different churches, what does it mean for the parish?

I think it is inspiring. What you are calling spirituality, I would call tradition. We had certain traditions within our denominations, but the spirituality is just the beliefs about the Bible itself, the belief about God and the experience of God in our lives, and it doesn’t matter so much what your denomination is if you know God as your Savior, and he is really in your life, and you’re trusting him, you look to him for your guidance in life. The other things are just traditions that you can enjoy or choose not to. I think that the Episcopals and the Lutherans have done well in this church, because of the emphasis on Bible study, what does the Bible say. As long as our focus is on the word of God, then the traditions about how we worship don’t get in the way of our harmony.

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