MAHTOMEDI, Minn., March 27 (AP)--More than a thousand Lutherans from around the country gathered to organize their resistance to a pact with the Episcopal Church they say would radically change the way Lutheran bishops are elevated.

The meeting Sunday opened the constituting convention for WordAlone Network, an organization that seeks to overturn the adoption of the Episcopal practice called ``historic episcopate.''

WordAlone supporters don't oppose the alliance to recognize and share Episcopal sacraments and clergy and cooperate in missionary projects, which the Evangelical Church in America approved last summer. Together, the two churches have about 7.5 million members.

But the agreement requires Lutherans to ordain their bishops through historic episcopate, in which each bishop is installed by a laying-on of hands by three predecessor bishops from a line believed to extend back to Christ's apostles.

The historic episcopate weakens the Lutheran tradition of the priesthood of all believers, and sets up the church as a caste system, said The Rev. David Preus, president of the American Lutheran Church before it merged with the Lutheran Church of America to form today's ELCA.

``It is the same sign to us that a Confederate flag is to African Americans,'' said Al Quie, a former Minnesota governor who spoke at the convention.

The four-day convention was designed to plan forms of resistance, said the Rev. Roger Eigenfeld, WordAlone chair and pastor of St. Andrew's Lutheran Church, the host congregation.

Eigenfeld said WordAlone's goal is to make Lutheran leaders aware of the opposition and get them to rework the pact so that the historic episcopate is not mandatory. Resistance to the practice might also lead to a schism in the Chicago-based ELCA, the nation's largest Lutheran denomination, he said.

``We aren't going to leave. We want to stay,'' he said. ``But we might get kicked out.''

Episcopalians are expected to approve the pact with the ELCA during a convention in July.

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