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ELCA approves full communion with United Methodist Church

Bishop Duane Pederson of Rice Lake, Wis., joins more than 1,000 other voting members in a song Wednesday during the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America assembly at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted 958-51 on Thursday to enter into full communion with the United Methodist Church.

Voting members made the move at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, which runs through Sunday at the Minneapolis Convention Center in downtown Minneapolis.

With the agreement, the ELCA and UMC recognize that they have a shared common confession of Christian faith, mutually recognize the baptism of one another and can share clergy. The agreement also provides for joint worship and exchangeability of members.

Announcement of the approval drew a standing ovation from the assembly and prompted embraces by representatives of the denominations. The assembly then sang the Charles Wesley hymn "Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing."

The discussion on the topic was a veritable ecumenical love-fest, with person after person stepping to the microphone to support the communion.

And Bishop Callon Holloway of the Southeast Ohio Synod said Lutherans in Southeast Ohio are in a "sea" of Methodists.

"And we enjoy the relationship, and we're swimming well," he said.

After the vote, ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson said, "We rejoice in what the Spirit has in store for us."

Pastor Marilee Bergerson, a voting member from the Northwest Minnesota Synod, was glad to see the measure go through.

"Any time we can gather together and be reminded that we are brothers and sisters in Christ, that we are here for the very same purpose, it is a very good thing," she said.

And Eastern North Dakota Bishop Bill Rindy said the agreement is "going to be a gift to both churches."

The UMC adopted the same agreement last year. The ELCA also has full communion agreements with the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, the Moravian Church, the Reformed Church and the Episcopal Church USA.

The Assembly also began discussion on a set of four proposals that, if passed, would open up the rosters of the clergy to non-celibate gays.

Bergerson said she had "no idea" how the vote would go. She did say that in her discussions with others she has heard people say "they are here to really listen."

Bonnie Nordvall, a Northwest Minnesota Synod voting member from Warroad, said she will be surprised if the proposals don't go through. She noted that the human sexuality social statement passed with a two-thirds majority Wednesday and that the proposals related to gays in the clergy require only a simple majority.

But she doesn't support it. She believes "it represents a departure from the foundation we once had."

Bob Kelly, a pastor at Peoples Church in Bemidji, said he'd like to see it go through. His daughter is a bisexual and currently seeking ordination in the ELCA, and he said one of the reasons he was at the assembly was to support her.

Homosexuality is "not a problem, not a moral issue," he said. "Promiscuity is an issue," but not homosexuality, per se.

One demonstrator showed up at the assembly Thursday. A man who declined to identify himself stood outside the convention center with a piece of duct tape over his mouth, holding a sign that read "Elect Jesus as Your Lord" and a shirt that read "Will work for Christ." He said they "ran me out" of the convention center.

The south Minneapolis resident was there in response to the human sexuality social statement that passed Wednesday, the proposals on gay clergy that will be considered today and for what he called "false teaching" and "hypocrisy" in the ELCA.

He said he wasn't there in judgment of anyone, but "to bear witness of the truth of Jesus Christ."