“Lutherpalians” become a reality after years of ecumenical engagement

More than two decades after the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Episcopal Church became full communion partners, congregations from both denominations are joining forces in arrangements that many see as the wave of the future for mainline churches, according to Living Lutheran magazine (January 19). Since the ELCA and the Episcopal Church opened the door to sharing clergy across church bodies with their full communion agreement in 2001, an increasing number of congregations and ministries have been moving toward that option. The pastor of Church of the Nativity and Holy Comforter in Baltimore says that the reason for these partnerships often comes down to simple math: “too many buildings and not enough clergy.” While these efforts are not mergers and the respective churches’ ministries retain their own ecclesial structure, such cooperation frees up resources and allows the partners to focus more on their mission goals. After seven years of having a shared congregation, members of Church of the Nativity and Holy Comforter say that their combined congregation is stronger and more effective. The examples of Lutheran-Episcopal shared congregations and ministries are now numerous.

The Episcopal-Lutheran congregation at St. Paul’s – Shepherd of the Desert Church, Barstow, comes together for
worship (source: The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles).

In Big Sky, MT, Lutheran and Episcopalian members of All Saints in Big Sky share a worship space with two other faith traditions, with neither the Lutheran nor the Episcopal churches owning the space. The “Lutherpalian” worshipers say that not needing to maintain a building gives them more opportunities to focus on outreach to a nearby resort area filled with newcomers and seasonal residents. In Winston-Salem, NC, an aging and shrinking congregation renewed itself after launching a bilingual outreach to the neighborhood’s growing Latino community, assisted by Lutheran and Episcopal bishops. Also notable is how ELCA and Episcopal campus ministries have joined forces; on 33 college campuses across the country, Lutheran and Episcopalian students have created joint ministries, often supported by nearby congregations and with ordained leaders coming from either denomination. While Lutheran and Episcopal traditions share common liturgical and theological orientations, these joint ventures also reflect the sharply decreasing denominational loyalty among Americans, especially evident on college campuses, where religious affiliation is in the minority among young people. Richard Mammana, associate for ecumenical and interreligious relations in the Episcopal Church, argues that Lutherans and Episcopalians find themselves in ministry together more for efficiency than necessity. Struggling to keep a church building open when there’s no one inside, he said, “just doesn’t make sense.”

(Living Lutheran, https://www.livinglutheran.org/2023/01/lutherpalians/)