Lutherans and Methodists have been in dialogue since the 1970s, and now full communion may be only steps away. At its March 3-7 meeting, the ELCA Conference of Bishops urged the church to commit to "interim eucharistic sharing" with the United Methodist Church. Full communion would promote sharing of ministries and resources, including allowing ordained ministers from one church to serve in the other.
"That's been the stated objective. We haven't put any kind of timeline on it," said ELCA Rocky Mountain Synod Bishop Allan Bjornberg, co-chair of the ELCA-United Methodist dialogue. Interim eucharistic sharing with the Episcopal Church went on for more than 20 years, he added.
The ELCA Church Council was scheduled to consider the proposal for interim eucharistic sharing for possible transmission to the Churchwide Assembly. The council met April 7-11, after presstime. Methodist bishops could endorse the agreement at their April meeting, Bjornberg said.
"What we're proposing is interim eucharistic sharing, which allows congregations to come together to share worship, to do joint study and exploration, and to get to know each other a lot better," Bjornberg told the ELCA News Service. "It allows space for people to learn about one another's traditions."
During the dialogues, church representatives found the churches to be "on parallel tracks in terms of our theological understandings," with significant agreement about baptism and "convergence" around issues related to bishops and levels of ministry, he said. The current dialogue on communion began in 2001.
"We've never had historical condemnations," Bjornberg said. "We're both churches that came out of reforming movements, separated by a couple of centuries."
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