Church of Sweden, Episcopal Church celebrate partnership and common mission

By Matthew Davies
Posted Nov 20, 2015

[Episcopal News Service] The longstanding partnership between The Episcopal Church and the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden was formally celebrated during a Eucharist service at Uppsala Cathedral on Nov. 18 at the close of the church’s General Synod.

Former Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori joined the celebration, during which Church of Sweden Archbishop Antje Jackelén offered a prayer for The Episcopal Church and Jefferts Schori offered one for the Church of Sweden.

“The relationship between the Svenska Kyrkan and The Episcopal Church has been a gift to both for nearly three centuries.  Recognizing and affirming that as a full-communion relationship will enable us to be far stronger partners in God’s mission,” said Jefferts Schori, in an e-mail message following the service. “We share a great deal, beginning with histories of migration, and we have very similar ways of worship, doing theology, and engaging ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.

“This is a living partnership which will undoubtedly grow far deeper in coming years, particularly in this season in ministry with migrants, where we meet Jesus in the other.”

The Episcopal Church and the Church of Sweden have for centuries have been in relationship.

“The churches have had good relations for quite a long time,” said Jackelén, in a news clip. “We have taken it for granted. Now we feel it is time to look into the process and see how we can further our partnership.”

The relationship between the two churches dates to the mid-18th century, when in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania there were some instances of Eucharistic sharing and priests serving across denominations without re-ordination.

“Both churches are actively involved in the striving for greater unity between Christians in the ecumenical movement,” according to a declaration read during the Nov. 18 service. “We desire to deepen this fellowship. We ask God at this moment to bless this undertaking and give the Episcopal Church and the Church of Sweden the grace to serve the Gospel of Jesus Christ together when it is called for. We will pray for each other.”

During her nine-year term as presiding bishop, Jefferts Schori, whose great-grandparents emigrated from Sweden to the United States in the late 19th century, visited the Church of Sweden several times and encouraged the relationship and cooperation between the two churches to be deepened.

During a Nov. 15-18 visit to Sweden, she was joined by the Rev. Chuck Robertson, canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond The Episcopal Church, and the Rev. Margaret Rose, ecumenical and interreligious officer for The Episcopal Church. Earlier in the week, they attended the Church of Sweden’s General Synod and visited Katerina Church in Stockholm, which is working with the local mosque and Islamic Relief to house refugees and provide immigration assistance.

Representatives of both churches met at the close of they synod to speak not just about the past, but also the future, said Rose, in an e-mail message.

“How to learn from each other in the area of interreligious relations, partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Swedish churches abroad, discussing questions of church state relations,  refugee resettlement,  gender justice and the continuation of our shared  work on climate change,” she said. “The Church of Sweden shares a liturgical  and  governance  tradition that is akin to ours. In these challenging times, we are both looking at the call of the Gospel to challenge  our churches’ engagement in a world beyond our walls.”

The 78th General Convention, meeting last summer in Salt Lake City, commended through Resolution B004 the recently published “Report on the Grounds for Future Relations Between the Church of Sweden and The Episcopal Church,” and called on the presiding bishop to explore ways for the relationship with the Church of Sweden to be deepened.

Each church has entered into local full-communion agreements between Anglicans and Lutherans and many regard it as a natural development for the Church of Sweden and The Episcopal Church to recognize that they are in full communion with one another. “The recognition of this relationship will better equip each international church to minister in presence, mission, and advocacy throughout the world,” according to the explanation that accompanied the proposed General Convention resolution.

The Church of Sweden is a member of the Porvoo Communion, which groups the British and Irish Anglican churches and the Nordic and Baltic Lutheran churches that entered into a full communion agreement in 1992 to “share a common life in mission and service.”

The churches that signed the agreement are the Evangelical Lutheran churches of Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden, and the Anglican churches of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The Lusitanian Church in Portugal and the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain — both extra-provincial dioceses under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury — also signed onto the agreement. The Evangelical Lutheran churches of Denmark and Latvia have observer status.

The name Porvoo comes from the town in Finland where a joint celebration of Holy Communion was held after the formal signing of the agreement in Järvenpää.

With 6.9 million members in 13 dioceses, the Church of Sweden — known locally as Svenska Kyrkan — is the world’s largest Evangelical Lutheran Church and a member of the Lutheran World Federation.

— Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.