[Episcopal News Service] House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris led a delegation of Episcopal leaders on a trip to Sweden last week [week of November 19, 2023] to attend the Church of Sweden’s General Synod and affirm the recently finalized full communion agreement between the two churches.
In addition to visiting various Church of Sweden parishes and ministries, Ayala Harris spoke at the closing Eucharist of General Synod in affirmation of the two churches’ agreement. “The fires of the Holy Spirit are moving among us in fresh ways, forming what is to come. We are called to help the church evolve and take a new shape,” Ayala Harris said, according to the written text of her November 22, 2023, remarks at the Church of Sweden’s Uppsala Cathedral.
“Today, we celebrate commitment, renewal, and hope,” she said. “Today, we celebrate the incarnation of the Holy Spirit that dwells in this space and in each of us. Today, we celebrate our ability to reimagine our hopes and dreams in a modern society that tries to turn those dreams into nightmares. Today, we celebrate how God turns our hope into action.”
The delegation visiting the Church of Sweden
Ayala Harris was joined in the Episcopal delegation by the following:
- Rt. Rev. Mark Edington, bishop of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe
- Archdeacon Walter Baer, also of the convocation
- Rev. Margaret Rose, deputy to the presiding bishop for ecumenical and interreligious relations
Their visit to Sweden reciprocated Church of Sweden leaders’ trip to Paris, France, earlier this year for a signing ceremony with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry held at the Episcopal cathedral there, Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity.
“In this time of increasing division, polarization and war, this agreement is a witness to unity that is so needed today,” Rose said in a written statement to Episcopal News Service. “The deepening relationships among Episcopalians and Lutherans at home and here in Sweden deepens our work together, in such areas as care for refugees, climate change, inclusive worship and so much more.”
ENS also reached out to the Church of Sweden for this story and will update with comment when available.
Full communion partners of the Episcopal Church
The Church of Sweden is one of seven full-communion partners with The Episcopal Church. The others are the following:
- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
- The Moravian Church (Northern and Southern Provinces)
- The Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, India
- The Old Catholic Church of the Union of Utrecht
- The Philippine Independent Church
- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
Ayala Harris, in a statement to ENS, called last week’s trip “a joyous occasion in the ongoing relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Church of Sweden.”
“This historic step will allow us to collaborate even more closely on issues of common concern,” Ayala Harris said. “I am excited by the ways the Spirit is moving among us, calling us to evolve and take new shape together. Our churches share a spirit of radical welcome, grounded in our common heritage. And I believe our prophetic voices are even stronger when bound in partnership.”
Agreement with the Church of Sweden
Full-communion discussions between the two churches date back to the early 1900s. Momentum picked up in the early 2000s, and in 2009, the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church passed a resolution directing the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations to begin a formal dialogue with the Church of Sweden, with the goal of establishing full communion.
Those talks produced the agreement that was approved in 2022 by the 80th General Convention and by the General Synod of the Church of Sweden, also known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sweden. The agreement acknowledges five points the two churches have in common, including sharing confession of the apostolic faith. It also makes nine commitments, including establishing a group to nurture growth in communion and regarding baptized members of each church as members of one’s own.
In March 2023, Curry traveled to Paris, France, to finalize the full communion relationship. While there, he signed a memorandum of understanding between the two churches, along with his Church of Sweden counterpart, Archbishop Uppsala Martin Modéus.
“Our full communion relationship with the Church of Sweden has given us new partners in ministry for the work of the Episcopal Church in Europe,” Edington told ENS. “In many of the cities we serve, Church of Sweden parishes are also present. We’re building new relationships with these brothers and sisters.”
The two churches held their first joint worship service in July, when the Rev. Scott A. Moore, an Episcopal priest serving two congregations in Germany, celebrated Holy Eucharist at a Church of Sweden parish in Berlin.
“As we look ahead to the future, may we have faith to dream bold dreams,” Ayala Harris said in her November 22 remarks. “May we engage our communities in new ways, building bridges across divides. May we radically trust in God’s guidance and provision. … As we live into this covenant, I pray that our bonds of affection continue to grow. May we walk faithfully together, bringing Christ’s light to the world.”
—David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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