The irony was unmistakable. The distant past seemed too near.
I was invited to bring greetings to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) Convention is Saskatoon, SK by Susan Johnson, National Bishop of ELCIC – an invitation resulting from the global reconciliation between Lutherans and Anabaptists initiated by the World Lutheran Federation in Stuttgart, Germany in July, 2010. As two Canadian church leaders we wanted to exemplify this reconciliation by attending each other’s national delegate gatherings.
There was something about being present at the national Lutheran church gathering that confronted my understanding of our history. The Convention included agenda that prompted tense and emotional discussion. Despite a determination to be respectful and gracious, comments still dripped with anxiety, fear and passion. There was clear disagreement.
I couldn’t help imagining the discussions that must have occurred almost 500 years earlier. Reformation necessitated passion. Such a massive shift in theology drew emotion. Although the agenda was different, Anabaptists in the middle of passionate revolt left the discussion and accelerated the reform in additional ways. This additional reform was not embraced. And almost 500 years later formal reconciliation occurred.
As our new Lutheran friends continued through a tense agenda I became increasingly uncomfortable. Here I was, an Anabaptist in the new millennium, watching Lutherans in disagreement. It was probably a setting like this hundreds of years earlier where we left the discussion, unable to continue the conversation. In a few minutes, I was about to bear testimony to a global public apology: reconciliation of the past being pronounced in the midst of current divisive discernment. The irony was palpable.
The nagging questions of our Anabaptist history refused to be ignored. They stood in front of me like a confrontational associate. Why could our love and yearning for faithfulness to God not be expressed in a more inviting fashion? How is it that we became enemies of those with whom we once communed, but now disagreed? Though we are now reconciled with our Lutheran brothers and sisters, some 500 years later we are still trying to learn how to disagree in a way that rises above the temptation to retreat and divide. The irony was unmistakable.
The conversations ceased. The discussions were not yet complete. More passion needed an outlet. More yearning needed to be given voice. But the time for talking had come to an end. There would be more dialogue tomorrow.
In the silence of worship, everyone filed to the one common place for all those seeking to be faithful followers of Jesus – breaking bread and sharing the cup.