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Pan-Lutheran – not a Kitchen-Aid product

29September2011

I am a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity, a self-described Lutheran ministerium.  To be a member of the Society, one must be 1) Lutheran and 2) a pastor.  Laity and non-Lutherans are invited to retreat with the society, in either chapter retreats (a more local gathering) or at the General Retreat, held once a year.

The Society is ordered by a Rule; when one joins the Society, you subscribe to the Rule of the Society.  One of the chapters of the Rule is focused on ecumenism.  Please note that ecumenism is NOT the same thing as inter-faith dialogue/relationships.  Ecumenism is, in essence, conversation/relationship among those of the same faith.

The chapter on ecumenism states: 

  • We are aware that Western Christianity as a whole is in a crisis of faith and that there are movements and orders in other ecclesial traditions organized for the confessional and spiritual renewal of their churches (i.e. the churches of the Reformation as well as the church of Rome). We will make contact with these movements and orders and invite them to chapter retreats and special meetings.


  • At the same time, the Lutheran ecumenical vocation is the unfinished business of the sixteenth century Reformation. Together with our forebears at Augsburg in 1530, we long for that reunion of Christians in which the Gospel might have free course and for that unity for which Jesus prayed. (cf. John 17).


  • Therefore, this ministerium is dedicated to the Lutheran vocation of reform of the Church and the Lutheran ecumenical destiny of reconciliation with the bishop and church of Rome.

These are points two through four of chapter eight.  The Society is committed to ecumenism, in particular engaging the bishop and church of Rome.  This year’s General Retreat has as its main speaker the Rev. Dr. William Rusch, who served the LCA then the ELCA Churchwide office in ecumenical relations, among other notable endeavors (like being on the Yale Divinity School’s faculty).  The lectures come on the heels of a meeting of the leaders of the North American Lutheran Church and Pope Benedict XVI, as well as the pope’s recent visit to Germany and “Luther-land”.

It has been fascinating to consider the importance of ecumenism – especially in relation to Rome – in a pan-Lutheran group.  Dr. Rusch observed that it is likely that the Society of the Holy Trinity is the most pan-Lutheran group in North America.  A pan-Lutheran group is a group with many different types of Lutherans.  There are ELCA, LCMS, WELS, LCMC, NALC, LC-I, both major Canadian Lutheran bodies, and likely a few more represented at the General Retreat.

A question keeps re-occurring here, both as we consider dialogue with Rome and the gathering of the Society, an overwhelmingly pan-Lutheran group – who speaks for the Lutherans?  If the Bishop of Rome really wanted to formalize something beyond dialogues, with whom would he meet?  There are virtually no other groups which can boast membership from the alphabet soup of North American Lutheranism, but the Society of the Holy Trinity is very intentionally and explicitly NOT a church body.  So who speaks for the Lutherans?

We are, at this juncture in North American Lutheranism, not doing a particularly good job of speaking with one another in our own denominations, let alone across Lutheran lines, so it is difficult to provide any sort of answer.  And, in the meantime, while clergy and professional church types struggle with back and forth of all of this high-level ecumenical dialogue, our people continue (for good or for ill) to worship together, pray together, join in Holy Communion together, and all the rest.

Does the ecumenical movement – even an intra-Lutheran movement – matter?  And, if it does, how do we address that on the ground-level?  Maybe next week I’ll have an answer or two.  Better yet, maybe you, dear reader, can provide a brilliant one for us!

KMF@CCD

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