Bishop Hanson with Dr. SayeedThe 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly (CWA11) was hopeful, spirited, and frequently emotional.  I was often moved to tears, and I was not alone.  Assembly speakers routinely received standing ovations.

The ELCA believes in ecumenism, the expression of unity and cooperation with other religious bodies.  Wet eyes and and a long, loud ovation filled the assembly hall when Bishop Hanson embraced Dr. Sayyid Sayeed, the National Director of The Islamic Society of North America.  Similarly, the voting members rose to their feet to greet Bishop George Walker of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AME Zion) when he addressed the Assembly.

Bishop Walker’s presence was both the culmination of five years of dialogue with the AME Zion Church, and also the prelude to scheduled meetings in Salisbury, North Carolina between leaders of the two denominations.  Bishop George Walker

Last Friday, the 16th of September, leaders of the two denominations celebrated what promises to be  an “unprecedented agreement between historically white and black churches” in a communion service at St. John’s Lutheran Church of Salisbury.

The mutuality expressed at the religious service and also at the discussions the following day are the result of a fortuitous geographical commonality.  Salisbury is home to AME Zion’s Hood Seminary, Livingstone College, and the ELCA’s North Carolina Synod Headquarters.  Rubbing elbows together in the same small city led to friendships which in turn led to the current discussions.Bishops Hanson and Walker depart the Covenant Service

Georene Jones, a St. John’s member and student in the theological studies program at Hood Theological Seminary, called Friday’s service an “absolute affirmation of what I believe.”

“It gives me great hope for the future of the church,” she said. “This is a culmination of my hopes and dreams.”

See reporter Nathan Hardin’s excellent report in the Salisbury Post.