The chief legislative authority of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted a full communion agreement with the United Methodist Church (UMC) on Thursday by a 958-51 vote.
Under the agreement, the two church bodies express a common confession of Christian faith; mutual recognition of Baptism and sharing Holy Communion; mutual recognition of ordained ministers for service in either church; and a common commitment to evangelism, witness and service.
The two denominations also agree to freely join worship and exchange members; engage in common decision-making on critical matters; and lift criticisms that may exist between the churches.
The UMC's chief legislative authority, the General Conference, adopted the same agreement by an 864-19 vote during its quadrennial meeting in 2008.
"We welcome you as you welcomed us last summer," the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, told the Rev. Gregory D. Palmer, president of the UMC Council of Bishops, after the vote, "and we rejoice at what the spirit has in store for us."
Before the ELCA Church Assembly vote, Palmer said it would be "a great day" for both church bodies and that he was grateful that the two have come to this point.
At a news conference after the vote, Palmer said that "God has brought both our churches to a broad place where Jesus Christ calls us ... to all be one [and] to go out for the sake of the world."
The two church bodies began formal theological dialogues together in 1977, which led to declarations of "Interim Eucharistic Sharing" in 2005.
While the full communion relation is the first for the UMC, it is ELCA's sixth. ELCA also has full communion agreements with the Moravian Church, The Episcopal Church, the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The ELCA Churchwide Assembly is currently meeting at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis for its biennial gathering, which will conclude Sunday.
Participating are around 2,000 people, including 1,045 ELCA voting members.
The theme for the assembly is "God's work. Our hands."