The 68 million strong Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has welcomed the recent decision by the Church of England General Synod to consecrate women as bishops, for its potential to enrich the life of the Church and in particular “for its immediate consequences in ecumenical relations” among Lutheran and Anglican churches.
The news will be welcomed by many in the Church, following strong criticism of the move from the Vatican. The Catholic Church has said that women bishops are a further obstacle to unity. However, they do not recognise male ordinands either, describing their priesthood as "null and void".
In a statement issued on 21 July 2008, Lutheran World Federation General Secretary Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko commended the Church of England for opening the way to “the fuller recognition and celebration of the gifts of women called to ministry.”
Pointing to the experience of Lutheran churches with women bishops, he expressed the hope that women who would become bishops in the Church of England would “bring gifts of leadership for the enrichment of the entire Anglican Communion.”
At its General Synod in early July, the Church of England voted to consecrate women as bishops. Some of the provinces of the Anglican Communion, including churches in Scotland, the United States of America, Canada, New Zealand and more recently Australia, have already approved the ordination of women as bishops.
Noko noted that involvement of women bishops within the LWF is relatively recent: the first women bishops in the Lutheran communion were elected only in 1992. It is, he said, “already clear that the leadership of women in all the roles of ordained ministry has been a blessing to those churches which have experienced it.”
The general secretary reiterated the LWF’s own affirmation of women’s ordination and service in the episcopal ministry through formal statements of its governing bodies. He cited the statement “Episcopal Ministry within the Apostolicity of the Church,” from the March 2007 Council meeting in Lund, Sweden, which built upon the action of the 1990 Eighth Assembly in Curitiba, Brazil.
However, he noted that, as is the case in the Anglican Communion, some members of the Lutheran communion are not convinced on grounds of faith that God calls women as well as men to be bishops.
“Discerning the ways of faithfulness is a road we must walk together. On this issue, as on others which remain controversial in our communions, no one has yet articulated the insights which can be convincing to all other positions. We accompany prayerfully the Church of England as she seeks pastoral means to embrace those who remain of an opinion different than the synod’s decision,” added Noko.
He also pointed to the immediate consequences of this decision for ecumenical relations between Anglican and Lutheran churches. He cited the potential impact on the Porvoo Communion, which links Nordic and Baltic Lutheran churches and Anglican churches in Britain and Ireland as signatories to the 1993 Porvoo Common Statement. This agreement allows mutual recognition of ordained ministry, including at the episcopal level, and opens up closer church relations and cooperation.
Noko noted that there had been limits to the implementation of the Porvoo Common Statement because the Church of England did not recognize the ministry of women bishops in the Lutheran churches. “The Porvoo Communion is an inspiration for relations between Lutherans and Anglicans in many places around the globe, and we are very pleased that this obstacle to the fullness of its life in communion can now be removed,” he said.
The LWF statement echoed the affirmation of a number of member churches, including the Church of Norway. A statement issued by the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of its Council on Ecumenical and International Relations, praised the “significant step in the consolidation of the Porvoo Communion.”
Tveit described the Church of England vote as a “bold and mature action, knowing well the immediate costs involved.” He noted that the Norwegian church, having already experienced a similar process some years ago and “having been much blessed by its fruits,” would accompany the Church of England with prayers for God’s blessing and guidance in the time to come.
The LWF statement is available (in PDF / Adobe Acrobat format) on the LWF website at:
With acknowledgements to LWF News Service