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U.S. Episcopalians vote to ally with Lutherans

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DENVER — Episcopal Church leaders approved a historic pact Saturday with the nation's largest Lutheran denomination, voting to create an alliance in which the churches will share clergy, sacraments and strategy.

The Episcopal Church's House of Deputies, made up of 832 priests and lay people, overwhelmingly approved the agreement Saturday, one day after it won approval from the other chamber of the church's legislature, the House of Bishops.

Leaders of the 5.2 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America approved the alliance last year.

"It enables our two churches to work together in a shared mission to our broken and hurting world," said the Very Rev. Donald Brown, co-chairman of ecumenical relations for the 2.4 million-member Episcopal Church.

"Both our communities will be living into reality Jesus' prayer that all his followers might be one," Brown said.

While they differ in style, the Episcopalian and Lutheran churches in the United States share similar patterns of worship and of regional organization.

Allowing the sharing of clergy will help congregations in parts of the country where one church is strong while the other has a thinner presence. In New England, for example, there is a single Lutheran synod and one Lutheran bishop, while the Episcopal Church has seven dioceses and a dozen bishops. Across much of the upper Midwest, the opposite is true.

The pact, which takes effect Jan. 1, also includes a compromise involving the Episcopal ordination of bishops, who are installed in a laying-on of hands by three predecessor bishops from a line believed to stretch back to Christ's apostles.

The alliance will allow Lutheran clergy to serve in Episcopal churches without such ordinations. New Lutheran bishops, however, would have to go through an Episcopal ordination to serve in an Episcopal church.

A spokesman for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Frank Imhoff, said there is some opposition to the pact among Lutherans, who for centuries have been wary of authority and church hierarchy.

It may prompt some Lutheran congregations to leave the church, said the Rev. Lowell Almen, secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but he stressed that much of the opposition to the pact comes from a misperception of the alliance as a merger.

"It doesn't mean either church body is losing responsibility for its own internal life or giving up its own history," he said. "Perhaps those histories will be enhanced."

On the Net: Episcopal Church: www.ecusa.anglican.org

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: www.elca.org