- The Washington Times - Monday, August 13, 2001

The nation's largest Lutheran denomination has voted to weaken an ordination-by-bishops agreement that is part of its "full communion" pact with the Episcopal Church.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's (ELCA) Churchwide Assembly in Indianapolis voted by more than a two-thirds majority to let new pastors bypass ordination only by a bishop, as agreed to in a new relationship with the Episcopal Church.
The Lutheran bylaw change, called "ordination in unusual circumstances" or the "freedom amendment" by advocates, says new Lutheran pastors may appeal to the synod bishop for an exception to that part of the "Called to Common Mission" (CCM) agreement between the two denominations.
"The requirement that a bishop preside at all Lutheran ordinations has brought criticism from some Lutherans who say the policy increases the power of bishops," ELCA Presiding Bishop George H. Anderson said at a news conference after the vote late Saturday.
The change was approved by 67.4 percent of the 1,040 voting delegates at an assembly the highest governing body of the church that has drawn more than 2,000 participants. The assembly continues through tomorrow.
Bishop Anderson, who retires Oct. 31, said the ordination topic had sowed sharp "division" in the ELCA in the last years of his tenure. "Some also have said CCM threatens Lutheran identity. The new bylaw amends this ordination requirement."
Lutherans who opposed the reversal said the exception might lead to abuses by ELCA bishops, or that it threatened ecumenical progress which was the concern of representatives of the Episcopal Church who monitored the vote at the Indiana Convention Center.
"This appears to be a unilateral alteration of the mutual commitment that both our churches have solemnly made to enter into full communion based on CCM," said a statement by Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold.
In the statement, read by a Episcopal Church ecumenical officer at the assembly news conference, Bishop Griswold said, "Obviously, it is too early to tell how frequently the 'ordination in unusual circumstances' will occur, or what the Episcopal Church's likely response will be."
The Episcopal Church General Convention, to meet in 2003 in Minneapolis which is Lutheran heartland will be the forum for a response, Bishop Griswold said.
The ELCA's allowance for pastors to reject this form of unity with the Anglican tradition, which includes the Episcopalian branch in the United States, touches on the long-standing Christian debate over spiritual authority being handed down by a succession of bishops.
Bishop Anderson, who in his Thursday report to the assembly endorsed the amendment, said "our belief is that the number [of ordinations with exceptions] will be low."
The Lutheran-Episcopal agreement, which was instituted in January, allows the two traditions to share ministers and altars. It was heralded as one of the most significant ecumenical developments of recent decades.
The ELCA accepted the "full communion" move only after four years of debate. But a significant minority believed that Lutherans had compromised the egalitarian view of ministry by adopting the Anglican belief that only bishops may pass on holy orders to new ministers.
A group that actively worked to pass the amendment, the WordAlone Network in the ELCA, said it did not view the exception on ordination as undercutting all other aspects of ecumenical unity with the Episcopal Church.

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