Covering the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada National Convention

Ecumenical Panel talks about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation
On Friday afternoon, Bishop Susan Johnson asked a panel of ecumenical partners to spend five minutes discussing one or both of the following questions regarding the 500th anniversary of the Reformation:
1. What is the significance of the 500th anniversary for your church or your church council.
2. What are the implications for ecumenism going forward for the next 500 years.

Here are some of the highlights of the responses from the members of the panel.
Most Reverend Archbishop Richard Gagnon, Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Winnipeg
Archbishop Gagnon focused on dialogue between the partners, saying it was very, very important. He felt that at the leadership level, great friendships had been forged.

“At the local levels, in the pews, there is much work to be done,” he said, “The positive possibilities according to the will of God and the influence of the Holy Spirit to build on the dialogue at the local level is important. To pray together, to dialogue among ourselves and together and to have common projects which comes from this discipleship.”

Right Rev. Jordan Cantwell, Moderator for the United Church of Canada
Rev. Cantwell pointed to the fact that when the first Reformation began 500 years ago, Christian Europe was deep into it’s colonial project, a project the churches were central in. As reformation was being birthed, it was being born in that mindset.

“It’s important for the churches to take stock, to look at how the church has been shaped,” she said. “Colonialism is in our DNA.”

In the next 500 years, Rev. Cantwell wonders what will happen if the church rebirthed itself with a post-colonial or decolonized mindset.
What needs to be reformed now?

She said Canada is in a perfect time to take stock in how we do theology, of how we understand ourselves. That needs to be reformed.

Rev. Canon Alsyon Barnett-Cowan
Rev. Barnett-Cowan was impressed the Lutherans chose to make this a commemoration and not a celebration, and that they chose to make it an ecumenical commemoration.

“This is an enormous signal from those of us in the ecumenical movement,” she said. “All of us hear the spirit differently and all of us have something to contribute to its hearing.”

Part of that is hearing our history again in a different way.

“We need to be renewed in this country,” she said. “We can only do that when we listen to the voices that need to express themselves, for as long as they need to accept themselves. Until they say, ‘We think you’ve got it’.”

Dr. Kathryn Johnson, Director of Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations of the ELCIC
Dr. Johnson said, when beginning the commemoration planning that the hope was the event wouldn’t do damage to the work already done to build bridges. She said the hope was too small and that the we should instead celebrate how well the commemoration has been received. She pointed to the joint statement signed in Lund, Sweden by Pope Francis and ECJHL Bishop Munib Younan as reason to be pleased.

Dr. Johnson also talked about ELW General Secretary Martin Junge’s Double Accountability of Christian Leadership.

“We know that we are accountable to God to work toward the unity that we know God wants for us,” she said. “Those who lead churches have an accountability to the people who bare the costs of disunity and where those costs are shown.”

Rev. Peter Bush, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada
Rev. Bush feels the denominations as we experience them in North America today will no longer be around 500 years from now.

“They are an experience of the 19th century,” he said. “They are part of modernism. I think they are on the way out as a structure we know today.”

Rev. Bush lamented that there were potential partners missing from the table in this discussion.

“The ecumenical dance is often fun. Often the ecumenical dances we have are with our cousins. When I dance with the United Church or with Lutherans or Anglicans, we really are cousins. Nice and safe but really rather boring,” he said. “Exciting conversations and dangerous ones are with people who don’t know our dance moves and may step on our toes. Moving forward, we will have to be prepared to get our toes stepped on. And develop thick skins to have serious conversations. So we can learn to dance with partners that we find odd and exhilarating at the same time.”

Willard Metzger, Executive Director of Mennonite Church Canada
Mr. Metzger said in 1998 two Mennonite North American denominations were in talks of amalgamation. Both sides were worried about losing their unique identities. He notes moving forward, that presents a challenge to how ecumenical work is done.

“As churches of the reformation, after 500 years, we might need reforming,” he said.

He said the youth and young adult population are looking to be our reformers.

“Can we embrace their prophetic presence or will we resist them?” he asked.

He also pointed to these neo-Anabaptists as re-expressing things differently.

“New ways is always a challenge to the norm,” he added. “Is it a threat or an opportunity for continual renewal?”

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada
Archbishop Hiltz said the most lasting gift of the Reformation is the discipline of always allowing ourselves to be reformed in accordance with the precepts of the gospel we proclaim.

“It’s the gift that keeps on giving new life to the church in it’s vocation,” he said.