Episcopalians and Lutherans are moving closer to installing gates in the walls that separate them, if not tearing down the walls themselves.

Last month, a committee from the Episcopal Church U.S.A. and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) prepared the final text of an agreement that would bring the two denominations into "full communion."

The plan still must be approved next summer by the governing bodies of both churches. Full communion is not a merger. The ELCA and the Episcopal Church U.S.A. would remain separate entities. But they would "recognize in each other the essentials of the one catholic and apostolic faith" and would work toward full "pulpit and altar fellowship."

With the approval of the affected bishops, an Episcopal parish could call an Evangelical Lutheran pastor as its leader, or an ELCA parish could call an Episcopal priest.

Bishops from both churches said that some are concerned about the consequences for the agreement should the Episcopal Church officially approve homosexual ordinations and the blessing of homosexual unions.

"I think that either of those issues would harm the Concordat's potential to pass," said Bishop Stanley N. Olson of Redwood Falls, Minnesota, who represents ELCA's Conference of Bishops in discussions with its Department of Ecumenical Affairs.

The differences between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church are evident even in the numbers of bishops the respective churches choose. More than 60 bishops oversee the 5.5 million members of the ELCA. The Episcopal Church, with half as many members, relies on twice as many diocesan bishops. ELCA bishops serve for six years, then no longer function as bishops. An Episcopal Church bishop retains the title for life, and the House of Bishops ...

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