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Full communion proposed for US-based Methodist and Episcopal Churches

Posted on: October 24, 2017 11:33 AM
Members of the Episcopal Church-United Methodist Dialogue Committee at their meeting this month.
Photo Credit: The Revd Dr Maidstone Mulenga / United Methodist Council of Bishops
Related Categories: AMICUM, Ecumenical, Methodist, USA

The body responsible for official dialogue between the US-based Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church has adopted a draft proposal for full communion. The proposal has been published in a report, A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers for the Healing of Brokenness, which has been released for consultation. The Episcopal Church-United Methodist Dialogue Committee will consider responses from laity, clergy and bishops before presenting formal resolutions to the two churches’ legislative bodies.

The committee is organising a series of regional conversations between United Methodists and Episcopalians to discuss the proposal; and agreed “to share communication celebrating the close relationship between the two denominations, especially highlighting the practical and missional opportunities that a full communion agreement would provide.”

In the preamble to their report, the committee says that the proposal “is an effort to bring our churches into closer partnership in the mission and witness to the love of God and thus labour together for the healing of divisions among Christians and for the well-being of all.

“The vision of Revelation 22 is of the tree of life planted on both sides of a river ‘and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations’ (Revelation 22:2). Faithful to Jesus’ prayer that his disciples be one so that the world may believe (John 17: 20-23), may this proposal be an expression of God’s will for the churches.”

The report details a number of actions that both churches will need to take for the full communion to take effect. On the matter of episcopacy, the committee says: “We affirm the ministry of bishops in The United Methodist Church and The Episcopal Church to be adaptations of the historic episcopate to the needs and concerns of the post-Revolutionary missional context. We recognize the ministries of our bishops as fully valid and authentic.

“We lament any ways, whether intentionally or unintentionally, explicitly or implicitly, that Episcopalians may have considered the ministerial orders of the United Methodist Church or its predecessor bodies to be lacking God’s grace.

“It is our hope and prayer that in this full communion proposal we may heal these divisions, right the sin of separation from the 1780s, and share in these mutual adaptations of the historic episcopate for the greater unity of the church in mission and ministry.”

It says that the Episcopal Church will need to enact “a temporary suspension, in this case only, of the 17th century restriction that ‘no persons are allowed to exercise the offices of bishop, priest, or deacon in this Church unless they are so ordained, or have already received such ordination with the laying on of hands by bishops who are themselves duly qualified to confer Holy Orders.’”

It explains that: “the purpose of this action will be to recognise the authenticity of elders and deacons in The United Methodist Church and to permit the full interchangeability and reciprocity of all United Methodist elders in full connection as priests and all United Methodist deacons in full connection as deacons in the Episcopal Church without any further ordination or re-ordination or supplemental ordination whatsoever.”

In a statement announcing the proposal, the committee “called for continued prayers for the United Methodist Church’s Commission on a Way Forward, which is working on proposing a way forward for the denomination in regard to human sexuality.” The UMC commission is due to meet in Nashville, Tennessee, next week before presenting an interim report to its Council of Bishops in November.

The two churches are both US-based, but are present in a large number of countries around the world. On their US-heritage, the report says: “The United Methodist-Episcopal dialogue has noted that church divisions in the US have often reflected racial and socioeconomic divisions. The Dialogue Committees have been adamant that conversations between Anglicans and Methodists must address racism as a church dividing issue. In addition to our common forebears John and Charles Wesley, we also have common forebears in Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, both members of St George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. Due to policies of racial exclusion, Richard Allen would go on to found what would become the African Methodist Episcopal Church, while Absalom Jones would become the first African American priest ordained in The Episcopal Church.”

The Dialogue Committee will meet again next April in Chicago.