After much planning and preparation, and a full twelve years following the signing of the Waterloo Declaration, the 2013 Joint Assembly—a fully integrated national gathering of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC)—officially commenced this afternoon with an Opening Worship service full of creativity, hopefulness and a call to be an outward looking church.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, presided at the Opening Worship service, and the Rev. Susan Johnson, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, preached the opening sermon.
Worship began with a video montage. Scenes from across Canada—white water rafting, the CN tower, towns and cities and countryside, land and sea, winter and summer—flowed across the screen as Lutherans and Anglicans from across Canada greeted the gathered worshipers with “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
That greeting that was echoed by Primate Hiltz just as a choir of adults and children in multi-coloured shirts led the gathered worshippers in an opening hymn, and volunteers carefully disassembled an inukshuk in the middle of the large room, and reassembled the pieces into a worship space, including an altar and lectern.
Some Anglicans and Lutherans came to the joint gathering having already experienced full communion within their own communities.
The Rev. Canon Travis Enright, of St. Faith’s Anglican Church in Edmonton is a member of the Liturgy Task Force, a subcommittee of the ACC’s Faith, Worship and Ministry Committee. Enright spoke of his experience working with Lutherans in designing liturgy.
“Having the Lutherans there inspires us to think more about how we do liturgy. And that’s the best part of having Lutherans. They move you outside of your form, and we move them out of their form, so sometimes we have to create a new form.”
What followed the initial opening greeting was a service whose unofficial theme was variety and creativity. After an opening prayer from the Primate, there were readings from Acts and the Gospel of John—the first of which was divided into segments alternating between pre-recorded video and live reading in French with English text accompanying on the screens. Interspersed among the readings were a ceremony of thanksgiving for God’s gift of water—from the waters of Creation to the waters of baptism, a confession of faith via recitation of the Apostle’s Creed, and a a symbolic Asperges. Children, along with some adults, ran to the worship space at the centre from the edges of the room, grabbed lengths of translucent cloth in many shades of blue, and streamed them behind them as they ran and danced through the assembled worshippers, as though sprinkling them with holy water.
The Rev. Chelsy Bouwman, also of the diocese of Edmonton, appreciated the chance to see creativity at work in worship. “That’s sometimes hard to make happen when you’ve got a book with everything that needed written right in it. [The joint worship] gave us an opportunity to see creativity at work.”
Bishop Susan Johnson’s sermon, which followed, was a missionary call to both Anglicans and Lutherans. Johnson drew on the texts presented earlier—the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian from Acts 8, and Jesus and Nicodemus from John 3—to challenge Joint Assembly delegates to remember that Christianity is a movement rather than an institution. That it is meant to be a gathering of disciples of Jesus, rather than “church people.” That the church is called by God to look outward, not inward.
Intercessory prayers were next, followed by a sung Eucharist. The Eucharist, presided over by the Primate, saw blue-shirted volunteers fan through the crowd of worshippers, distributing bread and wine as the choir sang and the band played.
Opening worship drew to a close with a warm and heartfelt passing of the peace—a loud murmur growing in the room as delegates hugged and shook hands while greeting each other in the name of Christ; Anglicans and Lutherans alike. A final worship chorus, “Praise, praise, praise the Lord! Praise God’s holy name, Alleluia!” ended the service.
“It felt to me like a combined, melded service,” said the Rev. Becky Klages. “I felt that our two traditions were so similar. I knew there were a few differences, and I was wondering how that was going to play out.”
Hundreds of members of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada are converging on Ottawa for an unprecedented joint national gathering of the two churches from July 3-7. The Joint Assembly will see Anglican and Lutheran delegates tackle issues like resource extraction, homelessness, and how to live out mission in a time of diminishing church membership.