In 2020, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) agreed to resume a bilateral dialogue, affirming the proposal of the ecumenical offices of both churches. Following a pre-dialogue consultation in 2003, both the Disciples of Christ and the ELCA affirmed plans to enter into dialogue seeking full communion. The first meeting took place in April 2004 with an initial series of papers exploring a common understanding of communion and baptism, under the theme of “the Role, Place, and Power of the Sacraments and the Confessions in Shaping Our Identities as Church.” Subsequent rounds were delayed, however, due to staffing transitions and changes in leadership.
- Proposal to Resume the Bilateral Dialogue between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada
- News Release, May 2020
Documents from the Previous Dialogue Sessions
September 28, 2020
Following the separate affirmation of both churches to resume the bilateral dialogue, a pre-meeting was held to discuss the developments in our relationship since 2004 and the goals of resumption. Participating were Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the ELCA; General Minister and President Terri Hord Owens; Bishop Don Kreiss, chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops EIR Committee; Disciples historian Mark Toulouse; Kathryn Lohre, Executive for the Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations & Theological Discernment; and Paul Tche, President of the Christian Unity and Interfaith Ministry. The agenda focused on building relationships, sharing history, and exploring theological differences, including each tradition’s relationship to the ancient historical creeds and understanding of ministry.
Other Resources Shared:
- Brief Introduction to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada
- Ecumenism: The Vision of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
- United Church of Christ-Disciples of Christ Full Communion Resolution and Documents
- A Formula of Agreement Between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ on Entering into Full Communion on the Basis of A Common Calling
2021 Dialogue Sessions
March 10, 2021
Due to the ongoing pandemic, the first meeting will be held via Zoom. This meeting is designed to introduce the participants to one another, study the previous meetings, and envision the dialogue together.
October 9, 2021
The first official meeting was held via Zoom. The first part of the meeting was led by Dr. Toulouse and Dr. Hughes to address these questions relative to their traditions:
- What makes Disciples Disciples?
- What makes ELCA Lutherans Lutherans? In theology and in practice?
- What are the historic roots of this tradition?
- How did the current expression(s) of this tradition come to be?
- What are key challenges for this tradition currently and into the foreseeable future?
The second part of the meeting was planned as small group sessions. The core values and beliefs of the Disciples and ELCA were discussed.
2022 Dialogue Sessions
April 28-29, 2022
Luteran Center, Chicago, IL
Participants arrived in time for dinner on April 28 at the Lutheran Center. This served as a time of relationship-building. After dinner, Disciples led worship in the chapel, which included the Eucharist. Rev. Richie Sanchez presided.
An opening discussion included a review of the process until now and preparation for the next day’s session. The historic nature of the gathering and the opportunity to discern the “new thing” God is doing among us (Isaiah 43) were important themes. Participants also touched upon neuralgic points between the two churches, including the creeds, Trinity, confessions, and the tension between autonomy and authority. Contextual dimensions were also noted, including the Disciples’ history as an American denomination and the ELCA’s history as a North American expression of a global Lutheran movement.
On the following day, the first case study was presented by Bishop Kurt Kusserow of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, who joined by the dialogue by zoom. He shared more about the centerpiece of the case, the “Around the River Parish,” and its setting, ministries, and the people involved. (See full case study above.)
The second of two case studies was presented by Rev. Rene Martin, a Disciples pastor in the Pacific Southwest Region, and his spouse, Rev. Lara Martin, an ELCA pastor in the Pacifica Synod. They shared more about the centerpiece of their case study in cooperative ministries, “How can we be church together?” (See full case study above, updated for the presentation.)
Lutherans led closing worship in the chapel, which included the Eucharist. Rev. Bridget Piggue presided and Rev. Kristen Opalinksi (ELCA Manager, Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations) preached.
October 28, 2022
This session was designed to study together a theological convergent text by the World Council of Churches, The Church: Toward Common Vision. The conversation and study were led by Rev. Dr. Thomas F. Best, former director of the Faith and Order and an ordained Disciples of Christ minister. This study once again affirmed the fact that both churches belong to God’s one church, even though there are ecclesiastical differences.
2023 Dialogue Sessions
January 26-28, 2023
Disciples Ministry Center, Fullerton, California
During the spring meeting, the ELCA and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) focused on studying the WCC’s Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1984) and delved into the topics of baptism, eucharist, and ministry. The sessions were facilitated by Bishop Emeritus Donald J. McCoid, who previously served as Assistant to the Presiding Bishop and Executive for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations of the ELCA. As a result of the dialogue, the two denominations reaffirmed their shared understanding and practices of these sacraments and ministry. The meeting underscored the significance of studying the Faith and Order Commission’s theological convergent texts, which offer guidance toward unity between the two churches.
For more information, please read the News Release.
October 26, 2023,
On October 26, 2023, the dialogue convened virtually to touch base and debrief on significant past events, including the January 2023 in-person meeting, and to discuss insights from the Disciples’ General Assembly and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Assembly. This session served as a crucial checkpoint, allowing members to share updates and set the stage for our upcoming meeting in the following year, to be hosted by co-chair Bishop Bill Gafkjen at the India-Kentucky Synod office. The gathering highlighted the ongoing commitment to reflective engagement and collaborative planning for future initiatives.
2024 Dialogue Sessions
February 22-24, 2024
Indiana-Kentucky Synod of the ELCA, Indianapolis, Indiana