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The Margaret O'Gara Ecumenical Dialogue Collection
La collection de dialogues œcuméniques Margaret O'Gara
Online resource centre for Canadian bilateral ecumenical dialogues
Centre de ressources pour les dialogues œcuméniques bilatéraux canadiens
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Catholic-Evangelical Lutheran

Agreed statements & reports

Pour les titres français, cliquez ici
  1. Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue in Canada (June 1992)
  2. Ensemble dans le Christ : Luthériens et catholiques commémorer la Réforme (Nov. 2016)

Additional resources

Pour les titres français, cliquez ici
  1. Justification by Faith through Grace: Study Resources for Congregations and Parishes (1999)
  2. Together in Christ: Lutherans and Catholics Commemorating the Reformation (Nov. 2016)

A brief history by Sr. Dr. Donna Geernaert, sc
former Coordinator of Ecumenical Relations for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

Stimulated by the Second Vatican Council, Lutheran/Roman Catholic dialogue began in the United States in July 1965. The international dialogue was officially initiated in November 1967. National bilateral dialogues have also been held in Norway, Sweden and Germany. In Canada, the first steps towards dialogue took place in regional groups which began to meet in Montreal, Saskatoon and Toronto in February 1968. In January 1969, a national consultation gathered the results of the regional meetings and made a number of recommendations about ways of improving relations between Lutherans and Catholics in Canada. For the next few years, regional groups were most active in Calgary and Toronto. In November 1973, the possibility of establishing a national dialogue was discussed but considered untimely because of the merger process in which the Lutherans were engaged.

In addition to this report on dialogue with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, you may also wish to consult the Roman Catholic-Lutheran Church Canada dialogue

Dialogue with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC)

Formed in 1986 through the merger of the former ELCIC and the Lutheran Church in America–Canada Section, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) is Canada’s largest Lutheran denomination. Since the signing of the Waterloo Declaration in 2001, the ELCIC and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) have been in full communion.

Dialogue between the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) was initiated in December 1986. From the beginning, one of the goals of this national dialogue has been to support regional ecumenical formation. This goal is reflected in the appointment of dialogue partners from each of the areas in which the five Lutheran synods are located (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario/Quebec/Atlantic). This arrangement enabled participants to work together in planning local events and to share ideas in a dialogue setting. The dialogue group included seven participants from each church and an Anglican observer. Meeting seven times between December 1986 and April 1991, the group issued a Report entitled, Lutheran/Catholic Dialogue in Canada, in June 1992.

As a way of making a distinctive contribution to Lutheran/Catholic dialogue, the group agreed to focus on questions of ministry and ordination. Making use of various international dialogues and studies, the process led to the identification of convergences, divergences and ongoing questions. The Report summarizes these in four areas of general agreement (The Priesthood of the Baptised and the Ministry of the Ordained, The Divine Institution of Ordained Ministry, The Sacramental Dimension of Ordination, The Permanence of Ordination), four areas of continuing dialogue (Apostolic Succession in Ordained Ministry, Ordering of the Ministry, The Teaching Office of the Ordained Ministry, Divergent Practice of Celibate and Married Clergy), and two areas of current disagreement (Women in Ordained Ministry, The Role of the Papal Office). Hoping to facilitate a greater convergence in understanding and practice, the group made two recommendations – intended to be viewed as pairs which challenge each party to the dialogue. 1. On the matter of mutual recognition of the validity of the ministry of the ordained in each Church, we recommend: a) that Catholics acknowledge their appreciation for the pastoral and prophetic value of Lutheran ordained ministry and b) in view of Lutheran acceptance of the validity of Catholic orders, that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada reconsider their practice of “reordaining” Catholic priests who join the Lutheran Church. 2. With regard to the two areas of current disagreement, we recommend: a) that Catholics continue to study the role of women in (ordained) ministry and b) that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada reflect on the pastoral and evangelical office of the Papacy today.

A distinctive feature of this dialogue group has been a commitment to supporting ecumenical activity at the local level. With this in mind, two of the dialogue meetings have included public lectures: on April 21, 1987, Professor Egil Grislis spoke at St. Paul’s College, University of Manitoba, on “Authority and Lutheran Identity”; on April 26, 1988, Dr William Rusch spoke at the University of Calgary on “Reception”. A statement on the appropriate use and treatment of consecrated elements was issued, and three of the meetings were followed by informative press releases. At its meeting of April 20-22, 1987, participants focussed on reception of the Common Statement on Justification by Faith published in 1985 by the US Lutheran/Catholic Dialogue. While it was acknowledged that each church may use slightly different words to speak of the same reality, there was no hesitancy in accepting the Statement’s affirmation: “Our entire hope of justification and salvation rests on Jesus Christ and on the gospel whereby the good news of God’s merciful action in Christ is made known; we do not place our ultimate trust in anything other than God’s promise and saving work in Christ.” The group agreed to receive the Common Statement as published and to convey this consensus to parishes through a series of gatherings of clergy and laity. Over 600 clergy from the Anglican, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic churches have participated in discussions on “Justification by Faith” and “The Eucharist” in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Intended to offer another opportunity for regional study and dialogue, the published Report was brief (16 pages), simply written, and concludes with a number of “Recommendations and Suggestions” on Eucharist, Ministry, Interchurch Marriages, and Other Areas of Understanding and Practice.

With the publication of the Report, the CCCB and ELCIC began to reflect on further steps in the dialogue. It was agreed that the focus should be on regional dialogues with two Lutherans and two Roman Catholics invited to take leadership in twelve cities across the country. The national dialogue would be made up of representatives from the regional groups and would provide an opportunity to review and guide them as well as collate results and report to the churches. Following the publication of, Church and Justification: Proposals for Ecumenical Bible Study and Discussion between Roman Catholic and Lutheran Congregations and Parishes, Bishop Telmor Sartison wrote to the CCCB to propose a study process involving regional dialogue groups. Published in the PCPCU’s Information Service 89 (1995), pp. 100-110, these bible studies extract five central statements from the dialogue text (Justification and the Church, Jesus Christ as the Only Foundation of the Church, The Church of the Triune God, The Church as Recipient and Mediator of Salvation, The Mission and Consummation of the Church) and set them alongside corresponding biblical passages to invite congregations, ecumenical groups and Bible circles to experience something of the dialogue process the international commission had engaged in over the years. The text for each study is quite lengthy, including prayer, introduction, biblical passage, explanation, ecumenical significance, an excerpt from the dialogue document, meditation, questions and prayer.

In October 1996, Rev. Cindy Halmarson prepared a draft introduction for use with the Church and Justification bible studies. She stated that the booklet would have to be revised and reprinted for general usage and noted the importance of an engaging format which would enable parishes and congregations to pick up the text and use it. Her letter also called attention to the recently issued Joint Declaration and expressed the desire that its common understanding be shared across the country.

The circulation of the first draft of the LWF/PCPCU Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by Faith in March 1995 seemed to provide a clear topic for dialogue. At the meeting of the Western Diocesan/Eparchial Coordinators of Ecumenism held in October of 1995, there was an opportunity to share information about the Joint Declaration and to invite participation in the dialogue. From the beginning, the Joint Declaration’s carefully worded assertion about the consensus achieved and the non-applicability of the mutual doctrinal condemnations of the 16th century stimulated a great deal of interest.

At the CCCB Plenary Assembly of October 17-21, 1996, the Chair of the Commission for Ecumenism gave a brief presentation on the content and some implications of the reception of the Joint Declaration. Included in the presentation was a summary the themes in the bible studies on Church and Justification and an encouragement to use the text to promote joint study in neighbouring Lutheran and Roman Catholic parishes. This text was described as a tool to promote awareness of the content of the Reformation debate and its relevance for contemporary Christian life.

The bishops were invited to participate in a consultation process to assess the consensus achieved in the Joint Declaration. The bishops were invited to reflect specifically section 4 of the Joint Declaration which proposes to explicate the common understanding of justification under seven topics: Human Powerlessness and Sin in Relation to Justification, Justification as forgiveness of Sin and Making Righteous, Justification by Faith and through Grace, The Justified as Sinner, Law and Gospel, Assurance of Salvation, The Good works of the Justified. A form was developed with a view to testing the concept of differentiated consensus. For each of the seven topics in section 4, the bishops were asked to consider: “Do you agree that the paragraph on Catholic teaching is an accurate statement of the faith of the Church?” Secondly, they were asked about the description of the Lutheran position: “Do you agree that the Lutheran position as stated can be reconciled with the Catholic understanding?” In light of their responses to the above, the bishops were asked in summary: “can you affirm the Joint Declaration’s claim that “a consensus in the basic truths of the doctrine of justification exists between Lutherans and Catholics?” The 39 responses received were compiled and synthesized in preparation for drafting a report to be forwarded to the PCPCU.

During the fall of 1996 and the spring of 1997, the Saskatoon Centre for Ecumenism sponsored a city-wide program of study on the Church and Justification bible studies. In Winnipeg, the dialogue team (two Lutherans and two Roman Catholics) reviewed the text and agreed that they would need to “pilot” the bible studies before inviting parishes and congregations to join in the process. It was agreed that the text of the Joint Declaration should be included as a pre-bible study component of the program.

In January 1998, I met with members of the Winnipeg dialogue group and Nicholas Jesson, then Director of the Saskatoon Centre for Ecumenism, to assess their experience and suggest an appropriate process to implement the bible study. In light of the discussions that had taken place in both Winnipeg and Saskatoon, we agreed that it would be more appropriate to develop a series of bible studies on the Joint Declaration than to attempt a revision of those offered in the Church and Justification text. It was agreed that the study sessions should begin with some setting of the historical context and conclude with a joint liturgy which would celebrate that agreement that has been achieved. The bible studies reflect key issues in the “Explicating the Common Understanding of Justification” section of the Joint Declaration (God’s Saving Grace, The Free Gift of Faith, Assurance of Salvation, The Good Works of Christians). The Introduction to the booklet includes a summary of the current phase of the dialogue, suggestions for group study, and an outline of two possible methods of bible study.

In addition to their participation in developing the bible study resource on the Joint Declaration, the members of the Winnipeg dialogue group planned a city-wide implementation process. As a first step in the process, members of the group facilitated four meetings with the clergy of the three Catholic dioceses and the Evangelical Lutheran Church. At these meetings, clergy were given a resource packet which included: the text of the Joint Declaration, a draft bible study, a poster, and a letter to the pastor with a bulletin insert. It was agreed that sessions I and VI would be city-wide gatherings, the first to be held in the Lutheran Church of the Cross and the second, in St. Mary’s Cathedral. Sessions II to V would be held in local area clusters. Members of the dialogue group agreed that they would all attend the city-wide gatherings but pair off (Lutheran and Roman Catholic) to serve as resource persons for the area clusters. An advertizing plan was designed: a news bulletin and short article for the local diocesan papers (Catholic News, Canada Lutheran, Progress); T.V. coverage on local channels (Sunday Scope and “news bytes”; Winnipeg newspapers (Free Press Faith Page, Religion Update).

The work of the Winnipeg dialogue group enjoyed remarkable success. An interview in the February 22 issue of the Winnipeg Free Press conveys a sense of excitement. In addition to some background notes on the dialogue and the significance of the Joint Declaration, the two co-chairs, Luis Melo and Roger Olson, look towards a future of improved relations. According to Olson, “the local discussions started with about 175 people coming together January 23 at a gathering that included Bishop Telmor Sartison of the Winnipeg-based Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and Archbishop Leonard Wall of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Winnipeg.” In Melo’s words: “I couldn’t have hoped for better participation. There have been more than 50 people at some sessions. I would have thought people would have had other things to do with their Saturdays.” In addition, the two co-chairs were interviewed by Trinity Television for a 60 minute VHS Video, “It’s A New Day”.

CCCB-ELCIC Working Group

At its meeting in March 2015, the CCCB Permanent Council approved the proposed terms of a joint project with the ELCIC to develop a study guide to accompany liturgical resources being prepared by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation to commemorate the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. The number of participants would be four on each side (one Bishop, two theologians and one staff person), and the total number of in-person meetings would be four. The group has held three in-person meetings (Dec. 2-4, 2015; Feb. 16-18, and June 27-29, 2016) and one conference call (April 20, 2016). A second conference call is scheduled for Nov. 25 to provide an opportunity for a review of the process to date and to consider the possibility of a final in-person meeting which would focus on how the five imperatives at the end of From Conflict to Communion might be translated into action in Canada. The study guide includes five projected sessions: why commemorate the Reformation, conflict at the time of the Reformation, early rapprochement following World War II, fifty years of dialogue, looking to the future. Each session includes prayer, opportunities for dialogue, an electronic presentation and bible study. In addition, the group is preparing texts homily aids, suggestions for diocesan use, and input for public media. The hope is to offer materials which are informative, engaging, and flexible enough to be used in a variety of settings. The study guide will be officially launched at the end of the 2017 Week of Prayer. Although developed by a joint CCCB-ELCIC working group, the materials will be relevant to members of all Reform traditions and are intended to support greater ecumenical commitment among all Christians.

Other Forms of Contact

In the documents of the Catholic Church, the promotion of Christian unity has three interrelated elements: prayer, practical cooperation, and theological dialogue. Each of the three elements builds on the others and aspects of all three are present in each. While formal dialogue has a certain priority as it provides a venue for addressing long-standing issues which initially divided the churches, ecumenical commitment implies more than theological agreement. If Christians are to move away from centuries of isolation and hostility to develop new attitudes of cooperation and friendship, relationships of trust need to be established. This need was recognized as early as the second meeting between the LWF and the SPCU which affirmed in 1966 that “regular exchanges of observers and consultations; regular staff consultations with broadening scope”; and a “constant projection of dialogue beyond the academic to the spiritual plane with consequent openness and patience” would be required. (IS 3, 26-28)

In Canada, the years following the Second Vatican Council saw Christians from many different churches participating in various forms of shared prayer. Lutherans, Catholics, and members of other churches often pray together during Lent, on Good Friday, at civic occasions and to mark significant national events or support one another in times of tragedy. All sessions of the official interchurch dialogues include times for joint prayer. Shared bible studies and prayer groups in neighbouring parishes have become increasingly common. Through local ministerial associations, clergy share in retreats and quiet days. Retreat centres and other institutes that promote spiritual life welcome and are enriched by Christians from a surprising variety of backgrounds.

Since the early 1970s, many areas of practical cooperation have been the focus of Canadian ecumenical coalitions usually involving the PLURA (Presbyterian, Lutheran, United, Roman Catholic, and Anglican) churches and occasionally including Mennonites, Salvation Army or Society of Friends. The work of these coalitions has been internationally recognized as an excellent example of how churches can address societal concerns together. On July 1, 2001, ten individual coalitions joined together to form a unified ecumenical organization called Kairos: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives. Involvement in the CCC Commission on Justice and Peace is a further opportunity for joint Lutheran/Catholic participation in issues of social justice.

Contact between the CCCB and the ELCIC took on a quite specific character when the Catholic Bishops’ Conference was invited to comment on The Waterloo Declaration, a proposal for full communion between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. The matter was discussed by the CCCB’s Commission for Ecumenism in September 1999, and a number of questions were raised especially concerning implications for ongoing relationships among the churches. The response was prepared in consultation with a number of theologians and forwarded to the Anglican Church of Canada as well as to the PCPCU for information.

Among four forms of dialogue identified by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the dialogue of life has a practical priority. These are conversations that occur in daily life where people strive to live in an open and neighbourly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations. Opportunities for this kind of dialogue may be highlighted when churches enter into covenant relationships as has occurred in Guelph (Lutheran and Roman Catholic parishes) and Calgary (Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic dioceses). Interchurch families may present the most obvious opportunity for the development of a true dialogue of life and the support of the Canadian Association of Interchurch Families has been greatly appreciated by many.

Questions Raised in the Dialogue Report of 1992

The 1992 Lutheran–Catholic Dialogue in Canada report concludes with a number of specific recommendations and suggestions on various topics covered in the dialogue.

With regard to the Eucharist, for example, the dialogue group found significant agreement on the appropriate use and treatment of the consecrated elements and so wished to propose:

1) the primary thrust of the Eucharistic celebration “is accomplished most directly by faithfully partaking after valid consecration has taken place”;

2) while the Eucharist is a congregational event, it is also for absent members; this intent “can be concretized by reserving the consecrated elements for later use with those who are absent, especially the sick”;

3) the handling of the remaining Eucharistic elements “is a matter of respectful and intelligent disposition … with respectful awareness of divergent patterns in other Churches.”

On mutual recognition of the ministry of the ordained in each church, the dialogue recommended: a) that Catholics acknowledge their appreciation for the pastoral and prophetic ministry of Lutheran ordained ministry and b) in view of Lutheran acceptance of the validity of Catholic orders that the ELCIC reconsider their practice of “reordaining” Catholic priests who join the Lutheran Church.

Both Churches ought to explore common approaches to preparation and to provision of support for families in interchurch marriages, including consideration of admitting of spouses and children to communion in both Churches – attendance at Sunday worship is a source of tension to be resolved.

We need a common approach to baptism in interchurch marriages, and to encourage the preparation of catechetical materials to be used in common.

Future dialogues are asked to explore initiatives to increase our experience of the Christian faith together: 1) common orders of service for baptism, marriage, anointing of the sick and funerals (within interchurch marriages); consideration of shared pulpits for special occasions, common approach to interfaith services, common hymnody and orders of prayer services, joint service for Good Friday; sharing of personnel in canonically and constitutionally acceptable ways for mission territories, and various chaplaincies; encouragement of regional initiatives: units on Reformation issues, cooperative approaches to continuing adult education, retreats and parish missions in common, use of common pastoral statements on current social issues, jointly sponsored social projects with particular provision for youth involvement; common Bible study.

There are many possibilities – which would you want to highlight?