Because of incorrect information from the Associated Press, identifications of Episcopal Bishop Edmond L. Browning and Evangelical Lutheran Bishop Herbert W. Chilstrom were reversed in a caption yesterday. (Published 1/20/91)

NEW YORK, JAN. 18 -- Leaders of the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America announced today that, after 25 years of discussion, they had reached agreement to bridge a centuries-old theological rift.

The proposal, called a "Concordat of Agreement," would allow members to celebrate Holy Communion together and exchange clergy. However, the agreement is not intended to lead to a merger of organizational structures, the churches' leaders said at a news conference today.

"There's going to be the possibility of interchanging clergy," said Edmond L. Browning, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. "There are social problems we can address together. . . . We've made a great step forward."

"We grew up very isolated from one another and from other Christians," said Bishop Herbert W. Chilstrom of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). "I walked past an Episcopal and a Catholic church every day on my way to school as a youngster and never the darkened the doorstep of either one."

What Browning called "a historic agreement" would link the two streams of Christianity, which diverged in the 16th century break from Roman Catholicism.

In Lutheran tradition, pastors who have been given a leadership function in the church can ordain other pastors. But in the Episcopal tradition, ministers must be ordained by the church's bishop in order to maintain the "historic episcopate," a succession that dates to the time of the apostles.

The proposal would mean that the Episcopal Church must recognize already-ordained Lutheran ministers. In the future, bishops in one church would participate in consecration of bishops from the other so both eventually will share the "historic episcopate."

But, Chilstrom said, "As far down as I can see, there will be no full union of these churches. We have clearly maintained our autonomy."

The "Concordat" document will now be given to congregations, dioceses and seminaries for study and discussion. The churches' governing bodies are likely to vote on the proposal at their meetings in 1994 and 1995.

The proposal was hammered out by eight representatives from each church after hours of dialogue that one participant likened to labor negotiations. Two Lutheran team members dissented, saying the plan could "provoke controversy and division among the congregations and ministers of the ELCA."

The ELCA is a relatively recent amalgamation, having been formed in 1986 with the merger of three branches of the Lutheran church. The ELCA has 5.3 million members worldwide, and the Episcopal Church has 2.5 million.

The "Concordat," if accepted by the leadership of both churches, probably will make little difference to the average congregation member but could lead to increased cooperation on political and social issues.

Browning and Chilstrom recently joined a group of American Christian leaders on a fact-finding mission to the Middle East, after which they issued a strong anti-war statement.

"There's a growing awareness in this century that, in a world which is increasingly interdependent, the churches can no longer remain in national isolation or denominational isolation if they're going to address complex world issues," said the Rev. William A. Norgren, ecumenical officer of the Episcopal Church.