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The Lutherans Came to Visit and met with ACNA Bishops

The Lutherans Came to Visit and met with ACNA Bishops
REC Bishop Ray Sutton rolls out the red carpet

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
February 2, 2022

DALLAS, TEXAS ---There were some very special visitors from the European Baltic States in town last week. Lutheran Archbishop Jānis Vanags and his entourage made a two-and-a-half-day stopover (Jan. 28-30) to the noted Texas city as they travelled around the United States, touching bases first in Indiana and Wisconsin -- with a visit to Nashotah House -- and a quick trip to Washington, DC, for the ProLife March. Upon leaving Texas, the Latvian Lutherans headed to Florida for a scientific lecture in Miami.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL) leadership was in the United States to interact with fellow Christians and to help foster ecumenical ties. This was the third time the Latvian Lutherans met with Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) representatives.

Archbishop Vanags had met twice before with his ACNA counterparts. He was present at the 2017 ACNA Assembly which drew the largest number of global Anglican leaders together on American soil. Archbishop Vanags was a part of the large contingent of ecumenical visitors to that assembly.

Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) Presiding Bishop Ray Sutton was very instrumental in issuing the invitation to come to Texas by way of Nashotah House. His cathedral in Dallas hosted the latest ELCL/ACNA ecumenical dialogue.

Both ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach and Bishop Sutton are deeply committed to ecumenical interaction and dialogue. They have travelled far and wide, individually and together, to seek a commonality with their Christian brethren and foster the preaching of the undiluted Gospel while remaining true to their Reformation Anglican roots. This is evident in their involvement with GAFCON, which is the largest gathering of traditional Anglicans in the world.

The first Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) was held in Jerusalem in 2008. In some ways, ACNA is a direct result of GAFCON-I which called for the creation of a conservative Anglican body in the United States as an alternative to The Episcopal Church for traditional Episcopalians seeking to find a theologically safe spiritual home.

In 2013, GAFCON-II was held in Nairobi, Kenya and in 2018 GAFCON-III returned to Jerusalem. Plans are already in the works for GAFCON-IV which is to be held in Kigali, Rwanda from in May 2023.

Archbishop Beach was announced as the new GAFCON chairman in the waning hours of GAFCON-III. So, he "wears" two mitres: one as the Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, the other as Chairman of GAFCON's Primates' Council.

Joining Archbishop Vanags on his American travels were Bishop Hans Martins Jensons (Bishop of Liepaja), and Pastor Andris Kraulins (Chair of the Foreign Affairs Department of the Latvia Academy of Sciences & Chairman of International Relations). Members of ACNA's top leadership greeting their foreign guests included: Archbishop Foley Beach (II ACNA); REC Bishop Ray Sutton (ACNA Ecumenical Dean); Bishop Ryan Reed (IV ACNA Fort Worth); Bishop Keith Ackerman (ACNA Fort Worth - assistant), Dean Paul Donison (Christ Church Pro Cathedral, Plano, Texas); and Canon John Boonzaaijer (REC/ACNA Canon to Foreign Missions).

Before travelling to Texas, the Lutherans first participated in a theological exegetical symposium on human sexuality held at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The seminary is a part of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are in intercommunion which they call an "altar and pulpit fellowship." Both Lutheran bodies are conservative and adhere to traditional Lutheran doctrine, reject women's ordination and embrace traditional one-man and one-woman marriage.

Archbishop Vanags and Pastor Kraulins, attended the "Man & Woman: His Creation" symposium. While in Fort Wayne they met Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LC-MS) President Matthew Harrison.

The visiting archbishop is a staunch conservative. He is opposed to abortion and euthanasia. He believes that homosexuals and lesbians are called to lead a chaste life and he is against same-sex marriage. The archbishop also rejects the ordination of women.

The Latvian archbishop joined LC-MS President Harrison and together they travelled to Washington, DC, to participate in the 49th annual March for Life. They joined a crowd of about 150,000 marchers.

The peaceful pro-life rally takes place every year in late January on the Friday which is closest to the anniversary of the January 22, 1973 Roe Vs. Wade Supreme Court decision which made abortion on demand the law of the land.

Since then, more than 65 million babies have not taken their first breaths. The sixty-five million lives which were destroyed in the womb is nearly enough souls to people both California and Texas. In 2020, the combined population of America's two most populous states stood at 68 million.

ELCL is a conservative Lutheran body which comes directly out of the Reformation. ELCL's history proclaims that the first "Lutheran" church in Latvia was established in 1521, a mere four years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg on All Hallows Eve in 1517, thereby igniting the Reformation in Germany.

The Latvian church does admit that Latvia has been Christianized since the 12th century.

When Luther's teachings began to spread, there were two streams of Lutheranism flowing across the face of Europe - the German understanding, and the Nordic expression.

The German version was lower church and Protestant in its approach to Luther's teachings while the Nordic version was Higher Church and apostolic.

Even though Latvia is a Baltic country -- along with Estonia and Lithuania -- the early Latvian Lutheran church was more influenced by the German understanding of Lutheranism then the more "catholic" Nordic version which was sweeping neighboring Scandinavia.

However, within the past 100 years the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia has embraced Nordic Lutheranism which has a more historical "catholic" polity, and it finally accepted consecration of its bishops by the Church of Sweden. ELCL now claims full Apostolic Succession.

Even though the Church of Sweden plugged the Latvian church into the historic line of Apostolic Succession, the conservative Lavitanians do not see eye to eye with the Swedish Lutheran counterparts on LGBTQ rights and women's ordination. The Latvian church considers itself to be in a broken fellowship with the Swedish church.

The current primate of the Church of Sweden is a woman -- Antje Jackelen. And in November 2009, Eva Brunne became the first lesbian bishop in a mainline church. Six months later in May 2010, Mary Glasspool became a suffragan bishop in Los Angeles.

Archbishop Vanags puts his money where his mouth is. He deposed one of his priests because the cleric was tolerant towards homosexuality and made public statements which were against stated Lutheran doctrine.

"Persons who accept homosexual orientation as normal cannot work in the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church," Archbishop Vanags is quoted as saying.

But while in Wisconsin, Archbishop Vanags was having to interact with a female Lutheran bishop. He and Pastor Kraulins met with Archbishop Lauma Zušēvics of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other members of her denomination for an informal conversation.

In the mid-1970s, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Latvia moved to ordain women. Then in 1978, Lauma Zušēvics was the first woman ordained by the Latvian Lutheran church. In 2014, she was made a bishop. Then in 2016, under the leadership of Archbishop Vanags, the ELCL amended its canons to reflect that only males can be ordained. This change in church law was passed with a solid 77% favorability. The current women clergy will be allowed to die out and there will be no more female ordinations, however the ELCL does create female "evangelists" which is similar to the ministry of a deaconess. But the church does not ordain female deacons, be they transitional or vocational.

The Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, now called the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Worldwide, is the liberalized breakaway version of Latvian Lutheranism. The "newer" denomination -- home-based in Milwaukee -- has a presence in Australia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Canada, as well as the United States. This is just like The Episcopal Church which has a worldwide presence through a network of foreign dioceses scattered around the world.

"In a friendly atmosphere, (a sit-down evening dinner) the officials of both churches discussed the tense relations between the two churches, trying to find solutions to further reduce tensions and adjust the relations," the ELCL explained on its website. The Latvian church refers to the separation between the two churches as a "divorce."

The next morning, Bishop Jensons joined Archbishop Vanags and Pastor Kraulins. The trio then headed to Nashotah House to meet Dean Garwood Anderson and tour one of Anglican's premiere American seminaries. "We delighted to have these godly leaders among us, Dean Anderson told VOL.

"Their visit to Nashotah House was organized by the Reformed Episcopal Church, Bishop Ray Sutton, especially."

Bishop Sutton has a soft heart for seminary theological education. He has been the Dean and Professor of New Testament at the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia and functioned as Dean and Professor of Theology at Cranmer Theological House. He's also a sought-after lecturer at Reformed Episcopal and ACNA seminaries.

"We had a lovely breakfast, discussed the state of our churches and seminary education, compared notes, exchanged gifts, and had a campus tour," Dean Anderson reflected, explaining that he was glad that the Lutheran delegation had an opportunity to experience Nashotah House.
Being from a Nordic country, the late January Wisconsin winter did not bother the Latvians.

While in Dallas, where it was much warmer, the Lutherans visited ACNA cathedrals in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex, fellowshipped together with their ACNA counterparts, exchanged gifts, and engaged in ecumenical conversation.

There are three ACNA/REC cathedrals in the immediate Dallas-Fort Worth area. There is St. Vincent's Cathedral in Bedford which is Bishop Reed's primary cathedral; there is Christ Church Pro Cathedral in Plano which is Dean Donison's cathedral; and there is the Church of the Holy Communion Cathedral in Dallas which is Bishop Sutton's cathedral and the host cathedral church for the ecumenical event.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia explained the outcome of the Dallas meeting: "Representatives of both churches agreed to develop further cooperation, to promote academic cooperation between educational institutions and other opportunities for cooperation."

Archbishop Beach called the January 29 meeting historical on his Facebook page: "Historical ecumenical meeting today at Holy Communion Cathedral, Dallas, with Archbishop Jānis Vanags and his team from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia."

Commenting on the Dallas ecumenical conversation Bishop Sutton told VOL: "The ACNA meetings with the ELCL marks the third ecumenical relationship with Biblical and Confessional Lutheran Churches. The ACNA has been in dialogue with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod since 2009 with whom the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Latvia is in full communion. The ACNA is also in dialogue and shares Eucharistic Hospitality with the North American Lutheran Church since 2010. The NALC has a Lutheran Chair at Trinity School for ministry."

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Latvia participates in the Lutheran World Federation, the World Council of Churches, and the Conference of European Churches. However, it is only an observer in the Porvoo Communion, not a voting member.
The Porvoo Communion is basically an ecumenical association of 15 predominantly Evangelical Lutheran churches in the Nordic region of Europe and Anglican churches in the British Isles. The Church of England is a part of the Porvoo Communion, as is the Church of Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The Communion is designed to help foster intercommunion between the various northern European Lutheran and Anglican bodies.

"On Sunday, January 30, in Dallas, Texas, Archbishop Jānis Vanags preached at Holy Communion Anglican Cathedral," the ELCL posted highlighting Bishop Sutton's cathedral. "The Cathedral is part of the Reformed Episcopal Church in the United States, which in turn is part of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). The REC is a growing conservative Anglican church that does not ordain women as pastors and does not support the consecration of same-sex couples."
From Dallas, the visiting Lutherans travelled to Miami for a scientific lecture before returning to their homeland.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline.

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