PORTLAND, Maine, Aug. 25--A Lutheran minister will join an Episcopal congregation in Bridgton on Sunday in what may be the nation's first such union since a historic agreement last month ended centuries of separation between the denominations.

The Rev. David Snyder, who is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and St. Peter's Episcopal Church will hold a Celebration of New Ministry to formally recognize the congregation's call to Snyder to be its spiritual leader.

"This is very unique, very distinctive and very significant. It's a cause for rejoicing among Lutherans and, I think, among Episcopalians," said the Rev. Ron Jackson, associate to Bishop Robert Isaksen of the ELCA's New England synod.

In July, the national Episcopal Church leaders ratified an alliance with the ELCA in which each denomination would recognize the other's sacraments and accept each other's ordained clergy.

The agreement, approved in 1999 by the ELCA, means that Snyder does not have to be ordained by the Episcopal Church to minister to the 40-odd Episcopalians at St. Peter's.

Snyder is the full-time executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland. He attended seminary in Louisville, Ky., and Philadelphia, and now lives in Fryeburg, Maine.

Snyder said he served most recently as interim minister for a Lutheran church in Conway, N.H. When that congregation hired a permanent pastor, he and his family began attending St. Peter's.

St. Peter's was looking for a permanent pastor at the time, and the congregation's search committee asked Snyder to be a candidate.

Marcia Elliott, senior warden of St. Peter's, said it is hard to explain exactly how the members came to realize that Snyder was the best leader for them.

"A sense comes over you that you belong together and there are wonderful things you can do," she said. "At first it was like, 'Well, what are we doing--he's Lutheran and we're Episcopalian,' " Elliot said.

Parishioners knew that a Lutheran-Episcopal accord was on the horizon, but the accord didn't matter to them. The congregation actually asked Snyder last spring to be its pastor.

"We knew we belong together," Elliott said.

Lutheran history goes back to the 1500s, when Martin Luther rebelled against the Roman Catholic Church and triggered the Protestant Reformation. The Anglican Church, to which Episcopalians belong, traces to King Henry VIII of England and his repudiation of the spiritual authority of the Catholic bishop in the 1500s.

The Anglican and Lutheran movements established their presence in America in the 1600s.

Anglicans typically came from a British background and spoke English, while many Lutherans were immigrants from regions such as Scandinavia who maintained their culture and language. One result was that the two denominations didn't communicate much, said Jackson.

That separation eroded in the 20th century, culminating in last month's accord.

"I'd say two Christian denominations that have basically lived side by side but not interacted much through the years have finally become well aware of each other's presence and their commonalities," Jackson said.

Among Lutherans, "there's been strong New England support for this (alliance) all along, so to see David actually putting it in practice is a wonderful thing," Jackson said.

Bishop Chilton Knudsen of Maine's Episcopal Diocese had similar praise.

The accord, she said, "will only have any meaning when it's lived in flesh and blood at the local level, where the people of God have the opportunity to live in the agreement."

Knudsen said the joining of Snyder and St. Peter's brought her "a surge of energy and joy."

As pastor, Snyder will follow the Episcopal liturgy, the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and all Episcopal customs. Exactly how he will answer to Knudsen, who has authority over St. Peter's, and to his Lutheran bishop is not clear.

Knudsen said she expects to talk with the Lutheran bishop-elect, Margaret Payne, about the question.

St. Peter's is such a small church that Snyder will be a part-time pastor and keep his job at Habitat for Humanity, which he considers his primary ministry. "My theme in my ministry is trying to bring people together, which is why I love Habitat for Humanity," he said.

It's also why he's ecstatic at his union with St. Peter's.

"It provides some dramatic evidence that we're looking for ways to achieve a more visible unity in the body of Christ," he said.

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