DENVER — Episcopal Church members are considering an alliance with the country's largest Lutheran denomination, a move leaders said would be a big step forward for Christians.
Pamela Chinnis, president of the House of Deputies, and Frank Griswold, presiding Episcopal bishop, want the vote taken soon during the 10-day 73rd General Convention, which began Wednesday.
The plan must be approved by the church's two-chamber legislative body, one composed of about 300 bishops and the other composed of about 800 priests and lay members.
If approved, the Episcopal and Evangelical Lutheran churches would recognize and share each other's sacraments and clergy and cooperate in missionary projects and other ventures. The churches would have a combined 7.5 million members, including the 2.4 million Episcopalians.
"I think if it's approved, it would be very significant to the ecumenical community," Griswold said.
The churches have been discussing an alliance for about 30 years, said Episcopal Church spokesman Jim Solheim.
"The theologians have discussed it and say there is very little that separates us and why don't we move into a full, formal relationship," Solheim said.
Episcopalians approved the proposal at their 1997 convention, but the measure failed to get the required two-thirds vote at the Lutheran assembly the same year. Last year, Lutherans narrowly approved a rewritten version.
Griswold said "full communion" would allow the churches to share resources and enrich each other by sharing traditions.
"It invites us to yield some of ourselves and the uniqueness of our tradition, and to make some adjustments in our tradition for the sake of unity," he said.
Lutherans may have problems agreeing with the Episcopalian method of ordaining bishops through the "historic episcopate." Each Episcopal bishop is installed by a laying-on of hands by three predecessor bishops from a line believed to extend back to Christ's apostles.
Lutherans don't require such historic procession. Opponents have likened the Episcopalian ordination to a caste system.
Griswold said if some Lutheran bishops chose not to be ordained by Episcopal bishops, "the bishops wouldn't be perceived as interchangeable."
A number of other issues are before the Episcopal General Convention, including a proposal to codify the church's unofficial policy of allowing each diocese to decide whether to ordain gays and bless same-sex unions.
On the Net: Episcopalian Church: www.ecusa.anglican.org
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: www.elca.org