“Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other, and by the mutual witness of faith.”Ecumenical Imperative 2.
The second Ecumenical Imperative, formulated as part of the Lutheran-Catholic joint observation of the Reformation anniversary, asks us to go deeper, to take risks, to be open to change. We are asked to make a commitment not only to change, but to be changed by each other.
Catholics have a lot to learn from Lutherans. And Lutherans have a lot to learn from Catholics. There is no shame in this, only joy. Our traditions have different strengths and weaknesses. As we were planning our Lutheran-Catholic observations of the Reformation, the Catholics were intrigued that we Lutherans have an expectation for our clergy to do continuing education. That’s our tradition. And they can learn from that. We Lutherans, on the other hand, noticed that the Diocese has a Director of Liturgy, something we do not have. We can learn from that.
Learning is a matter of the head. We can go deeper in this imperative into matters of the heart, transformations from the encounter with each other—not just once, but over and over. The speakers at our Convocation who reflected on this Imperative talked about metanoia, about the deeply spiritual nature of the honest encounter with the other. (Sr. Eileen Hurley) Dr. Laurie Jungling told of the transformative nature of academic study with people of a different faith background, suggesting that transformation happened in any genuine encounter.
Lutherans and Catholics both have a firm understanding of faith, theology, scripture, God, the church and the world. It is firm enough that we can engage in conversation with one another, and learn from one another, learn together, and move to a new place together. An example of this is the process leading up to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. It was a stumbling block for Lutherans and Catholics historically, and quite a raw spot. But patient conversation and listening led both Catholic and Lutheran participants to come to a new place of agreement by study, prayer, scripture reading, and theological dialogue. What started as 2 divergent positions, became transformed by the encounter with the other into a new position that both could affirm.
Transformation, ultimately, is not an end in itself. It is a means to the mutual witness of faith. Locally, regionally, nationally, globally, our churches work together for justice and peace. We care for the poor and the displaced, we advocate with our governments and with our people, we find ways to proclaim the name of Jesus, our reason for being.
When I came back from meeting Pope Francis, people asked me, “Did you talk to him about women’s ordination?” No, I didn’t. Instead, I looked him in the eyes, wearing my clerical collar and my bishop’s cross, and greeted him in Spanish, his native tongue. And he said he loved Lutherans, and we pledged to pray for one another. It is where we start.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA