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Methodist-Lutheran dialogue team discusses sacraments

2/19/2002 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

By United Methodist News Service

The rites considered sacraments by both the United Methodist Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) - baptism and the Lord's Supper - were topics of discussion when dialogue team members from the two denominations met Feb. 14-17 in Orlando, Fla.

Led by United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert of Nashville, Tenn., and ELCA Bishop Allan Bjornberg of Denver, the dialogue team was meeting for the second time. The current dialogue, the third round between the two Protestant bodies, was initiated last September.

The two denominations do have differences in thinking about baptism, or entry into church life, and about the Lord's Supper, also known as Holy Communion. But, Talbert told United Methodist News Service, "We quickly came to realize these differences are basically in terms of nuance."

As an example, he cited the issue of "real presence" in the Lord's Supper. An examination of the teachings of Martin Luther and John Wesley show that both denominations historically believe in the idea of real presence. The emphasis during communion is a bit different, according to Talbert, as Lutherans focus more strongly on relating to "the body and the blood" while United Methodists focus on the Holy Spirit.

"When we partake of the bread, we are, in fact, remembering who Jesus really was and is," he said. "Once we partake of Holy Communion, Christ's spirit empowers us and sends us forth to do mission and ministry in the world."

Bjornberg noted that, on an international level, Lutherans and Methodists already have discussed the issue of baptism, and he believes the dialogue team essentially reached agreement on the topic, although more conversation will follow.

"The other sacrament is Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper," he said. "There are some perceptions in both Lutheran and United Methodist churches that we are at some distance apart about that. What we discovered is a much greater convergence than we thought."

Talbert doesn't consider differences in perception as barriers to the previously stated goal of the current round of dialogue: "our hope for full communion and fellowship between the ELCA and UMC."

The ELCA already has established full communion with the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, Reformed Church in America and the Moravian Church.

Members of the dialogue team will meet again in September and twice during 2003. Future topics of discussion include sanctification and justification, according to Talbert, as well as how to reconcile each church's ministries to allow for the free exchange of clergy.

In addition to Talbert, United Methodist team members are the Rev. Lars-Erik Nordby of Norway; the Rev. Amy Laura Hall, Duke Divinity School; Jean Miller-Schmidt, Iliff School of Theology; and Judith Crain of Green Bay, Wis. The Rev. Paul Chilcote, Asbury Seminary, serves as a consultant.

The ELCA team, besides Bjornberg, includes Kathryn Johnson, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary; the Rev. H. Frederick Reisz Jr., Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary; Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Graduate School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University; and the Rev. Timothy Wengert, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

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