When Lutherans speak of ecumenism, they usually are referring to further cooperation with other Lutherans. On October 8, in Clark, New Jersey, the 20,000-member Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches voted to become an integral part of the 2.8-million-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The merger will take place after congregational ratification and an eight-year trial period during which the SELC will be a non-geographic district of the synod.

The merger is a logical one, for this group of Lutherans with Slovak roots has had altar and pulpit fellowship with the Missouri Synod since 1908. SELC pastors have been educated at Missouri Synod seminaries where the SELC has funded chairs in the Slovak language and liturgy. The theological traditions of the two churches are almost identical.

The SELC also elected its first American-born president, a 47-year old minister, Milan A. Ontko, who will continue as leader of the new Missouri Synod district. Ontko and outgoing president Dr. John Kovak championed the merger and other intra-Lutheran proposals, including a declaration of altar and pulpit fellowship with the American Lutheran Church.

In a continuing spirit of Lutheran ecumenism, the SELC voted to enter fellowship discussions with the church of its forefathers, the Lutheran Church in Czechoslovakia, and with the largest Lutheran body in the United States, the 3.2-million-member Lutheran Church in America.

The only other body of Slovak Lutherans in the United States is the Zion Synod of the LCA. During the thirties, when both Zion and the SELC were more Slovak than American, a merger was discussed. Although there was agreement on theological grounds, differences of polity prevented merger. Now, thirty years later, the SELC is an American church—and merger with the English-speaking Missouri Synod is a natural step.


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