We asked a few questions of Bp. Donald McCoid, ordained for 42 years, bishop since 1987, and Executive for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since 2007.
Tell us how you got involved in Lutheran-Catholic dialogue.
Growing up I didn’t know much about the Catholic church. I had friends that were Catholic but I was ignorant of the church’s practices and policies. I didn’t have a judgment—I just didn’t know much about it. As I began to learn more about the Catholic church, I wanted to know a lot more about it! It’s helped me in many ways become a better Lutheran. I have looked for ways to build bridges between my faith understanding and those of people who are Catholic from the point of view of theology and liturgy. I was probably most renewed by the liturgical renewal movement because of the advances of the Catholic church, post-Vatican II.
Can you specify how this made you a better Lutheran?
Sacramentally. I now have a sense of the centrality of word and sacrament in the life of the church. I grew up in a congregation that had very infrequent communion services. I came to the realization as a pastor of a church that education needed to be done because I felt that every weekly liturgy needs to have communion at the heart of experiencing the presence of Christ.
The preparations leading up to the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification were some of the most exciting reading and presentations that I have ever been involved in. I was invited to a Catholic seminary to share perspectives on the JDDJ. Loved it! I really loved doing the preparatory work. What was most exciting was the question-and-answer time, because I also realized that many people sitting in that Catholic seminary class really did not know what Lutherans believe about justification, about theology, our Confessions, our view on the real presence in the sacrament.
I also would confess that one time I used to define my Lutheran faith in how we were different from Catholics, Reformed, Methodists and others, and that is certainly not how I do it today. It is so wonderful to have a common affirmation of faith even while we address differences.
What’s the next big thing you hope to see between Lutherans and Catholics?
I’d love to see a Joint Declaration on the holy eucharist and baptism. Following that I’d love to see the day in which we could commune together. But we have to lay the foundation first.
What would you recommend to the Lutheran and Catholic people of God out there who want to make a difference?
I think we need to know what we believe. We also need to be in dialogue on the local parish level, and the local judicatory synod/diocese level. For all the advancements and decisions we have nationally and internationally, it doesn’t always filter down to the local level. Spiritual ecumenism, which is something the Catholic church lifts up, is something we can all lift up through our mutual sharing. We could sit down together with Luther’s Small Catechism and Cardinal Kasper’s Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism. It would be very interesting for people to know what we believe in terms of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the sacraments. When people go to church together, they often comment that the Lutheran liturgy is very much like the Catholic liturgy. What we need to do is have people sit down and say, Lutheran and Catholic theology have many similarities too! We can build on those strong points that we hold in common even as we make advances in understanding the differences.