The beginning of a new creation was put into play as United Methodist and Evangelical Lutheran members gathered on Thursday, July15, 2010, at the ELCA Churchwide Offices to discern how the Holy Spirit is at work to realize our unity in Christ through the recently established full communion relationship. General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Stephen Sidorak, observed:
"Our inaugural meeting exceeded my expectations. We addressed all the items on the proposed agenda and then some. With the ELCA, we have set an ambitious but realistic agenda, outlining plans for our second meeting in April of 2011 and making a good deal of headway on a three-year plan. I have the feeling this new relationship of full communion will bear much fruit.
Full communion with the ELCA will require of United Methodists to "rethink" church not only denominationally, but also to "rethink" it ecumenically, especially in terms of mission and ministry. We can no longer say, of our dear sisters and brothers in Christ in the ELCA, we "have no need" of the many gifts and graces they have to offer - or act as if we have no such need. To be ecumenical is to be converted from an old, dare I say tired, way of doing business denominationally to a new understanding of how business might be conducted ecumenically.
Full communion will necessitate a top to bottom change of heart on the part of the leadership of The United Methodist Church across the connection. This will be terribly difficult, but not thereby impossible. I simply pray for an openness to it on the part of the Council of Bishops, the Connectional Table, the General Secretaries Table, Annual Conferences and their local churches. We have not even begun to imagine the possibilities being opened to us through the power of the Holy Spirit."
Noting a similar sense of success, The Rev. Betty Gamble, Associate General Scretary, said, "The meeting was filled with excitement and enthusiasm. Don and Steve helpfully shared their research and reflections, much of which was profound and illuminating. It was inspiring to be at the table. Our United Methodist members bring a lot of gifts to this endeavor, and it's clear we are going to be blessed by what the ELCA members have to share." The Rev. Donald McCoid is the Executive for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations in the Office of the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA. Dr. Michael Trice, the Associate Executive with Rev. McCoid, broke from his sabbatical to attend the meeting as well, underlining its significance for both churches.
The ELCA News Service reported that "The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, greeted the commission and expressed his enthusiasm about engaging in "theology together." He asked the commission to "be bold" in how it will help imagine the denominations' future mission and ministry." The commission appointed the Rev. Jonathan W. Linman, assistant to the bishop for formation, ELCA Metropolitan New York Synod, and the Rev. Edgardo Colon-Emeric, professor and director of Hispanic Studies, Duke Divinity School, Durham, N.C. as co-chairs. (See http://bit.ly/9y9Nzk for the full article).
Other joint commission members along with the co-chairs and staff include: Dr. Norma J. Hirsch (Des Moines University), Dr. Jacqueline Bussie (Capital University), and Bishop Gregory R. Pile (Allegheny Synod) for the ELCA; Bishop Mary Ann Swenson (Los Angeles Area), Rosalie Bonner (Southwestern University), and Bishop Sharon Zimmerman Rader (Ecumenical Officer of the Council of Bishops) for the UMC.
The ELCA has assembled a number of resources to help pastors and congregations live out full communion locally. These can be found at http://bit.ly/bSIugy .