Becoming Lutherpalians

Baltimore Sun Story November 1, 2015

WBAL-TV Story November 12, 2015

WYPR-FM Interview with Clergy November 30, 2015

Episcopal News Service Story December 13, 2016

What brought the two congregations together?
The Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter struggled with the same challenges faced by many urban mainstream Christian churches – declining attendance and financial struggles made worse by the costs of maintaining a large, antiquated and inefficient physical facility. The Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Cedarcroft, while stronger financially, recognized that it needed more active members to have the critical mass of worshippers necessary to carry out their Christian ministry – evangelism, witness, service and outreach.

The churches had much in common – similar liturgies, hymns and prayers. And, unlike many other congregations, both Nativity and Holy Comforter have welcomed people of different racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds, and varied sexual orientations and identities. Both had been committed to welcoming the stranger, the traveler, and the immigrant. The congregations joined for several worship services and opportunities for fellowship in the summer and fall of 2015. The two immediately found common ground, and the pieces easily fell into place.

Aren’t there differences in the Lutheran and Episcopal Churches?
The two denominations have different histories. Their governance structures differ, both at the individual church level and at the diocese-synod level. For example, the Vestry serves as the Episcopal church governing body, while the Congregation Council serves that function for a Lutheran congregation. Episcopalians consider various actions – such as confirmation – as rites reserved for a bishop while a pastor can lead these services in the Lutheran church.

But most importantly, both denominations recognize Jesus the Christ as Lord and Savior. They both worship the Trinity of God the Father, Jesus His Son, and the Holy Spirit. Both believe that Salvation cannot be earned by acts, but is achieved as a gift of God through His Grace. In sharing these fundamental beliefs, any other differences between the two denominations can be overcome.

To remain viable, The Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter decided to sell its building and move a half mile north to join The Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Cedarcoft. The two congregations entered into an innovative joint ministry and began worshiping together on All Saints Day, November 1, 2015. This creative partnership has enabled both congregations to more effectively carry out our ministries. Strengthened by the Holy Spirit, we believe we are truly better together! On November 4, 2018, we formally became a Federated Congregation.

Frequently Asked Questions about Federation (These were developed for our members in October 2018 leading up to the decision to federate.)

  1. What is being proposed?

Since November 1, 2015, the congregations of The Church of the Nativity, Cedarcroft and The Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter have worshipped together under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding negotiated by the Vestry and Congregational Council, and approved by our respective bishops. Now we plan to formalize our interdenominational partnership through a process known as federation. We want to proceed from what has been an extended “engagement” to enter into formal “marriage.”

  • Things seem to be going well now so why do we need to federate?

Yes, most everyone likes our unusual partnership as “Lutherpalians.” Federating would enable us to lock in that partnership for the long term. Under a federation, we would legally become one congregation, while preserving the best aspects of our Episcopal and Lutheran identities and traditions. It also would enable us to eliminate certain redundancies and duplicative efforts, while saving money on such things as insurance. For example, we now maintain different sets of financial books, operate under two budgets and maintain separate endowments.

  • So, what changes under a federation?

Although we presently worship and serve the world as one congregation, we legally operate under two separate corporate charters. Under the federation we would dissolve Holy Comforter’s corporate charter. Nativity would remain as the surviving corporate entity because Nativity holds the title to the buildings. Nativity would change its name to become The Church of the Nativity and Holy Comforter. This would enable the church to retain certain grandfathered regulatory provisions that saves us money and a lot of government hassle.

Upon federation, the finances of both congregations would become one, including the existing endowments. Member contributions, bequests and other income would go into a common account and Holy Comforter no longer would pay a separate voluntary monthly “rental” fee to Nativity.

  • What else changes?

The existing “Vestry” and “Congregational Council” would become a single nine-member “Church Council.” The “Rector” would now be known as “Pastor.” The “Senior Warden” becomes “Vice President,” the “Junior Warden” becomes “Property Manager”, and the “Registrar” becomes “Secretary.” Certain decisions that the Vestry previously could make on its own would now require the Congregation’s approval. For instance, the annual budget (as well as calling a new Senior Pastor) would now require approval of voting members of the Congregation at an Annual or Special Meeting.

  • Did you use a model in developing the new Agreement?

Yes, there are a number of Episcopal-Lutheran partnerships across the nation but the more we looked at such congregations in Michigan, Oregon, Maine and Florida, among others, we realized our partnership is unique. We have spent months in consultation with the leaders, attorneys and bishops of our Diocese and Synod. As we drafted the Federation Agreement together, we wanted a model that could be used by other interdenominational partnerships.

  • Will I continue to be a member of the Episcopalian (or the Lutheran) church?

The Church itself will be a duly recognized parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, TEC, the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the ELCA, and the ELCA, all of whom are known as judicatories of the two denominations. Church members may participate in assemblies, conferences, conventions, committees and/or other activities of either of the denominations, without regard to whether they previously identified as Episcopalian or Lutheran. You may continue to identify yourself as a member of one or the other denomination or just say you’re a Lutherpalian! 

  • How will we “count” things, such as attendance and member giving, once we federate?

We will be one congregation known as The Church of the Nativity and Holy Comforter. In the annual “parochial” reports of our activities required by the Diocese and Synod, we will report half of our membership, attendance and spending to each judicatory, adding a note to each report that we are a Federated congregation with combined numbers. We plan to give equally to both the Diocese and Synod.

  • What is the process for approval?

The proposed Agreement of Federation has been preliminarily reviewed and approved by attorneys for the Lutheran Synod and Episcopal Diocese, as well as by Nativity’s Vestry and Holy Comforter’s Council. A Special Congregational Meeting has been called for 9:00 a.m. Sunday, August 26, 2018 in Hart Hall, at which parishioners will be asked to formally approve the Federation. With approval, the document will be signed by Pastor Stewart, Vestry and Council leaders and, finally, by clerical and lay leaders of the local Diocese and Synod.

Once the documents have been approved and signed, work will begin to implement the actions outlined in the Federation Agreement, such as dissolving Holy Comforter’s corporate status and combining funds and investments. We are already planning our joint budget for 2019.

  • What should we expect upon federation?

There will be a lot happening behind the scenes – combining banking and investment accounts, dissolving and changing corporate identities, modifying various insurance documents, etc. – but the typical member will see little or nothing that’s different. Everything that we most enjoyed over the past two and a half years as partners continues unchanged – together worshipping and studying the Scriptures, together breaking bread (both at the Eucharist and at potluck meals), together doing good works. Federation merely formalizes what we already know: we truly are Better Together!

Suggested Resources

Lutheran Episcopal Coordinating Committee Facebook Page

Lutherpalian Clergy Facebook Page

Asset Map of Lutheran-Episcopal Shared ministries

Discovering Common Mission: Lutherans and Episcopalians Together. 2003 Don S. Armentrout & Robert Boak Slocum 

Lutherans and Episcopalians Together: A Guide to Understanding. 2001 G. Scott Cady & Christopher L. Webber

A Lutheran Looks at Episcopalians. 2008 James F. Pope & Robert J. Koester 

Toward Full Communion and Concordat of Agreement: Lutheran-Episcopal Dialogue, Series III. 2001 William A. Norgren

Daring to Share. 2018 Sandra Beardsall, Mitzi J Budde, & William P McDonald

Ending with Hope. 2002 Beth Ann Gaede

Pilgrim Souls Grace and St. Paul’s Episcopal Churches and Their Merger 2008 Kay W. Bigglestone

Vital Merger: A New Church Start Approach That Joins Church Families Together. 2013 Dirk Elliott

Church Mergers: A Guidebook for Missional Change. 2016 Thomas G. Bandy & Page M. Brooks

Better Together: Making Church Mergers. 2012 Jim Tomberlin, Warren Bird & Craig Groseschel

An Episcopal-Lutheran Community in Baltimore