- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2000

MAHTOMEDI, Minn. More than a thousand Lutherans from around the country gathered to organize their resistance to a pact with the Episcopal Church that they say would radically change the way Lutheran ministers are ordained.

Sunday's meeting opened the constituting convention for WordAlone Network, an organization that seeks to overturn the adoption of the Episcopal ordination practice called "historic episcopate."

WordAlone supporters don't oppose the alliance to recognize and share Episcopal sacraments and clergy and cooperate in missionary projects, which the Evangelical Church in America approved last summer. Together, the two churches have about 7.5 million members.

But the agreement requires Lutherans to ordain their clergy through historic episcopate, in which each bishop is installed by a laying-on of hands by three predecessor bishops from a line believed to extend back to Christ's apostles.

The historic episcopate weakens the Lutheran tradition of the priesthood of all believers and sets up the church as a caste system, said the Rev. David Preus, president of the American Lutheran Church before it merged with the Lutheran Church of America to form today's ELCA.

"It is the same sign to us that a Confederate flag is to African Americans," said Al Quie, a former Minnesota governor who spoke at the convention.

The four-day convention was designed to plan forms of resistance, said the Rev. Roger Eigenfeld, WordAlone chairman and pastor of St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, the host congregation.

Mr. Eigenfeld said WordAlone's goal is to make Lutheran leaders aware of the opposition and get them to rework the pact so that the historic episcopate is not mandatory. Resistance to the practice might also lead to a schism in the Chicago-based ELCA, the nation's largest Lutheran denomination, he said.

"We aren't going to leave. We want to stay," he said. "But we might get kicked out."

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