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Lutherans welcome a humbled Mennonite


Willard Metzger and Bishop Susan Johnson

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August 5, 2011
-Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man. — Humbling was the feeling that best described Willard Metzger’s experience of worshiping with Lutherans at the national convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), July 14-17.

Metzger, General Secretary at Mennonite Church Canada, reciprocated the invitation that was extended to Bishop Susan Johnson, who participated in the Mennonite assembly in Waterloo. But Metzger experienced a welcome, recognition, and hospitality at the Lutheran event in Saskatoon that spoke to a deeper, more serious relationship between the two denominations than the Mennonite Church Canada assembly offered in Waterloo.

“The ELCIC is speaking about us [Mennonites] as partners,” said Metzger. Metzger was moved by the irony: two denominations exist today because of disagreement 500 years ago, and now he was invited to the table as an equal.

A historic reconciliation between Lutherans and Mennonites was initiated by the World Lutheran Federation and took place last summer in Stuttgart, Germany after several years of Lutheran-Mennonite dialogue. The foundational Lutheran Augsburg Confession called Mennonites heretics, resulting in persecution of Mennonites during the reformation years. Mennonites have not always responded graciously to the heretic label.

“I am personally very grateful for the growing friendship I have experienced with Bishop Susan and look forward to the ways in which our two church families can become better acquainted,” said Metzger in his address to the gathered church.

In addition to serving opening communion, Metzger was welcomed to sit at the Synod bishops or church leaders table throughout the convention, and received the gift of a baptism chalice symbolizing the beginnings of a new relationship with the ELCIC.

But more than that, Metzger was moved by a piece of personal history. “My great, great, great grandfather [a Lutheran] was orphaned and was adopted by a Mennonite family in Waterloo County, Ontario, near Kitchener. The family allowed the boy to keep his surname. So now, Metzger in the Mennonite community of Kitchener-Waterloo is a very common Mennonite surname. But outside of this region, Metzger is a German Lutheran name.”