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"'Full communion' proclaimedLutheran, Episcopal churches honor common faith."
"When the pastors at two Bainbridge churches trade pulpits this Sunday, it won't be just a visit.Rather, Bethany Lutheran Church and St. Barnabas Episcopal Church will celebrate the newly proclaimed full communion between the two denominations, in which each recognizes the spiritual authority of the other's clergy.We have a long history of collaboration, said Martin Dasler, senior pastor at Bethany Lutheran. This is a celebration of a portion of the Christian faith with its own particularities in common.Dasler will be at St. Barnabas Sunday morning, while Julie Honig-Smith, associate rector at St. Barnabas, will be at Bethany. Both will preach, but they will also administer communion, a central element of both church services.She will come not as a visitor, but as a pastor who comes equipped to provide, Dasler said.The island's two other affected congregations - Port Madison Lutheran and Grace Episcopal - will participate in an exchange, but details and dates are not fully worked out, although Bethany assistant pastor Paula Burchill will preach at Grace on Aug. 12.The relationship between the churches is not a merger. The two denominations - the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church USA - will retain their own identities and structures.The agreement, called a concordat, is essentially a declaration of equivalence. The Lutherans approved the pact in 1999; the Episcopalians in 2000.By recognizing the spiritual authority of each other's clergy, the concordat does mean that clergy ordained by one body may seek employment with the other.That could come up in situations of need, Honig-Smith said. In rural areas, churches could collaborate and hire an Episcopal pastor and a Lutheran associate, for example.The similarity between the churches is a product of history, the pastors say. Both churches originally split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century - the Lutherans in Germany and the Episcopalians in England. And in both cases, the issues had to do with beliefs and authorities, but not with the form of the service.Both churches said in breaking with Rome that worship was not at issue, Dasler said.Both churches retained the ritual mass form of worship, which gives members a comfort level with the other denomination.The furniture is familiar, is how Dasler puts it.Which is not to say there are no differences. Both pastors say the Lutherans are stronger generally on faith and doctrine, and the Episcopalians on the form of worship.They are strong on the Bible, and we are strong on the liturgy, Honig-Smith said.In practical terms, Honig-Smith sees possible avenues of cooperation, particularly in a community the size of Bainbridge.Bethany has a strong vacation bible school, and St. Barnabas doesn't have one, she said. I hope the lay members see how we have things to offer each other.The concordat is not meant to facilitate the flow of members from one church to the other. Rather, it is a reflection of the fact that such changes and exchanges have long been common.People have moved about, back and forth, for a long time, so theologians started saying 'what are the differences and how can we work them out?' Dasler said. Theology often follows reality. "