Join us for our second of two special services celebrating our Christian Unity, Sunday July 14th, 9:30 am. All Souls Episcopal Church and Messiah Lutheran Church will share in the Episcopal liturgy for communion with Pastor Lou presiding. More information is in the pastoral letter below:
Dear Messiah members and friends, and to all our brothers and sisters in Christ:
On July 3-7, Lutherans and Anglicans in Canada gathered in a joint assembly in Ottawa for worship, fellowship and to make important decisions about ministering together as Christians. In anticipation of the assembly, leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, The Anglican Church of Canada, The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) shared in a letter how members of the four denominations have come “closely together in service of the gospel.” (You can read it here: http://bit.ly/1aeSwNR )
For twelve years, Lutherans of the ELCA and Episcopalians have shared “full communion.” As the our denomination’s website states, “Full communion is when two churches develop a relationship based on a common confessing of the Christian faith and a mutual recognition of baptism and sharing of the Lord’s Supper. This does not mean that two churches merge; rather, in reaching agreements, churches also respect differences. These denominations likewise jointly worship, may exchange clergy, and also share a commitment to evangelism, witness and service in the world.”
This journey is as old as Christ’s own prayer that his disciples live as one. It has been a continued hope since the Augsburg Confession called for unity amidst serious differences between Roman Catholics and those who would later be called “Protestant.” Following the world wars of the last century, Christians searched to understand how Christians could visit such atrocities upon one another, and a new openness arose to ecumenism as evident by Vatican II and many new ecumenical bodies and efforts being formed. Since then, ministry has been joined globally, nationally and locally to be sure. In fact, Lutherans seeking unity would help create the ELCA out of several Lutheran faith traditions 25 years ago. Eventually, this was followed by full communion agreements between the ELCA and a number of other denominations. (To learn more about that, visit: http://bit.ly/Z1bXY1 )
In our case, All Souls Episcopal and Messiah Lutheran members remain individual congregations, but share our building and much ministry. We have helped each other to meet crucial, practical needs. We have shared in outreach to our community and world. Recently, both pastors have spent time learning about each other’s liturgy. This facilitates pulpit exchanges, and now, each pastor will seek to aid the other church whenever an absence or emergency need arises without the added cost of a supply pastor. On a practical level, this is all good stewardship. On a spiritual level, it helps expose us all to the fullness, depth and breadth of Christ’s church and its varied theological riches.
There is no one model for living out our shared faith and call. Some Episcopal-Lutheran congregations (such as in Galax, VA) have fully merged or formally yoked together for the sake of the Gospel. Others like us, share our lives openly without any formal expectations or agreements. Others might join together as needs and opportunities for ministry arise. In each unique context, we must prayerfully find the path Christ has prepared for us and go. Christ prayed for our togetherness long ago, but in many ways, our journey together as Episcopalians and Lutherans has just begun.
Whether we continue to share the same building or not, we are, will be, and should be the church together. Messiah and All Souls members intend to labor together and along with other area congregations for the sake of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. It leads us toward the fulfillment of Christ’s prayer and calls us to the same future.
This Sunday, July 14th, the congregations of Messiah and All Souls will come together as part of the catholic (universal) church and celebrate our unity in one service at 9:30 am. We’ll share in worship and break bread at our Lord’s Table. Our prayer and fellowship together will fortify us for the work ahead, such as: our combined Vacation Bible School, our ongoing ministry to those suffering hunger and homelessness, our youth’s combined mission trip in July, our seeking to be good stewards of everything God has given us. The service will also powerfully witness to us and others of God’s grace and love. Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
God is doing something special here in and through our small but mutually growing congregations. I invite everyone to come and celebrate our unity in Jesus, not just at worship this Sunday, but as we leave to go out into the mission fields together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Pastor Lou Florio
Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.
© 2013 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.