A new model for full communion church and common ministry was baptized with the waters of the Edson and McLeod rivers on All Saints’ Day, November 1.
Members of the Edson faith community gathered at the Lions Club Hall to share a meal and give thanks and praise to God for the commitment to Christian unity of the co-operating parishes of St. Catherine’s Anglican and Grace Lutheran.
Through prayerful discernment and conversation, learning how to honour one another, our histories and our traditions, and be in faith-filled community with one another, the two denominations developed and affirmed an Ecumenical Shared Ministry Agreement.
The Holy Trinity Edson Unity Service was led by Anglican and Lutheran representatives including: the Rev. Dr. Larry Kochendorfer, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCiC) Bishop for the Synod of Alberta and the Territories; the Ven. Alan Perry, Executive Archdeacon of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton; and the Rev. Trish Schmermund, Pastor of Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, Edmonton, and Dean of the Northern Area.
“This has been a long, long engagement for you, but even with the in-laws stirring the pot by insisting that decisions be made from our different traditions and our different polity, this is a marriage being wonderfully lived out here in Edson,” said Bishop Larry. “I believe the church is moving in the direction of collaboration and partnership, and your engagement and this celebration, filled with joy and thanksgiving to God, will be a model for us as we move forward as a Synod together with the Diocese of Edmonton.”
The Ven. Alan Perry, brought greetings from Anglican Bishop the Rt. Rev. Dr. Jane Alexander:
“My Dear Friends, I applaud you for the courage to step out and do something new in Edson that will help us all find stronger community and relationships out of which we can proclaim the gospel, make disciples, and further the Kingdom,” said Bishop Jane.
“I am so very sorry that I am unable to be with you this evening, but please know that you are being held in prayer as you begin this journey. I think that our brothers and sisters in the faith who founded both Grace and St. Catherine’s would be very pleased that our two churches have found a way to come together in ministry and in witness.
“The full communion agreement between our two denominations has taken different shapes in dioceses and synods across the country. Holy Trinity is our first local expression of a full communion church in the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. It is my prayer that Holy Trinity, as example of health and growth, may serve as a model for other partnerships, particularly in rural areas.”
For more than a decade in Edson, Anglicans and Lutherans have often celebrated together church holidays and seasons, such as Advent, Lent and Palm Sunday. The Rev. Trish Schmermund said she saw the seeds of ecumenical cooperation planted when she was pastor of Grace Lutheran from 2002 to 2008.
“With the support and encouragement of other priests and pastors, the churches have carried the ball; listening to and discerning with God along the way,” said Schmermund, who, as Dean of the Northern Area, continues to provide support to the Edson churches.
“It’s really interesting to come out here after 10 years and see the people living out their faithfulness to one another and to God,” she said. “It’s been really exciting to work with them on an agreement over the last few months, but they’ve really guided a lot of the process themselves and I give them credit for their persistence, patience, and dedication. This is an awesome community and it’ll be great to see where God leads Holy Trinity from here.”
Joan Carter shared a message of love and encouragement from the Rev. Dr. Ann Salmon, former incumbent of St. Catherine’s and Grace: “When I first met you, you hardly knew each other. Yet, by the grace of God, you persevered. You didn’t give up on each other. Instead, you took one step of faith right after the next.
“You welcomed a shift in the culture of both congregations when you agreed to look beyond yourselves and join God in all the places in the community where God is already present,” said Salmon, who shepherded the two congregations on their journey of worshiping and ministering together. I will never forget an after-church meeting when you were asked, by a guest from the diocese, to describe your involvement in the community. You had so much to say about all the ways and places where you meet God!
“As you move forward in your marriage, new things will test your relationship,” said Salmon, who now serves as Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology and Leadership & Mission at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon. “But remember who you are: God’s children called, by the grace of God, to be together in shared ministry. Together, you make disciples of all nations. Together, you baptize and teach in God’s name. Together you join God everywhere, all the time. Congratulations! I love you all so very much.”
Alison Reid brought greetings to the congregation from the Rev. Kimberly Roy, minister of Edson United Church, who expressed her “deep admiration for the hard work, faith and determination displayed by both communities in coming together as one; Holy Trinity.”
Although the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Edmonton were amended by the 65th Synod in 2017 “to make provision for co-operating parishes where one or more of the parishes in question is a congregation of a church in full communion with the Anglican Church of Canada,” developing a ministry model for the new joint parish of Holy Trinity, which brings together two faith denominations with different understandings of church structure, posed several challenges.
“The difficulty was that our fundamental structures come from opposite ends,” said the Ven. Alan Perry. “Anglican structure is top-down, from diocese to parish; and Lutheran structure is bottom-up from congregation to synod.”
Eventually, both churches, the Diocese and the Synod agreed to form an ecclesiastical joint venture between St. Catherine’s Anglican and Grace Lutheran: churches that exist as separate entities, yet function together as one unit. The agreement, which was written in accordance and the Constitution and Bylaws of the Synod, “sets out the structures of governance, accountability and support which will allow both the Synod and the Diocese to recognize Holy Trinity and allow it to participate in the governance and mission of each of the Synod and the Diocese.”
The Holy Trinity model is a testament to faith triumphing over adversity; this model of cooperative ministry may provide a feasible alternative for other smaller congregations struggling to provide ministry.
“The key question, as it is for every parish, is how do they discern and engage in the mission they’re called to in that place?” said Perry. “Certainly, this is a model that can be replicated elsewhere.”
By signing the new shared ministry agreement, representatives of both congregations agree to “honour, respect and celebrate both the Anglican and Lutheran traditions and heritage in its life, worship, ministry and mission, and participate in the wider life and mission of the Church through both the Synod and the Diocese.”
“We’re one family,” said Alison Reid. “There are people here who are members of St. Catherine’s, others who are members of Grace, and there are some who have joined us that did not belong to either parish. We are all members of Holy Trinity.”