The next General Convention, in 2018, plans to consider a proposal for full communion with The United Methodist Church. A full communion relationship represents a big step in restoring ties and opening the door for closer cooperation.
The Episcopal Church is currently in full communion already with five other denominations:
The process of reaching a full communion agreement requires dedication and persistence on both sides, and restoring these ties often involves retracing decades – if not centuries – of history; it also often involves collaborating with our Anglican Communion partners worldwide. Our agreement with the Moravian Church took about 15 years to complete in the United States, but the beginning of the dialogue on a larger scale dates back to 1749 in the British Parliament. The Church of England and the British Moravian Church held more focused dialogues in the 1980s and 90s, reaching an agreed statement in 1995. Building from this, a dialogue was established by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church in 1997; the conversations continued from 1999-2007 in the US, and after a trial period of Eucharistic sharing beginning in 2003, the dialogue advanced to the point of writing out an agreement. The proposed agreement, titled “Finding our Delight in the Lord: A Proposal for Full Communion,” was approved by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church in 2009 and then by the Moravian Church at its Northern and Southern provincial synods in 2010 and inaugurated with a celebration of the Eucharist with co-presiders from all three bodies. See a slideshow of photos from the service.
The Rev. Jordan Haynie Ware, a member of the Fort Worth deputation, is serving on The Episcopal Church – United Methodist Church Dialogue Committee on Full Communion. Here’s what she has to say about the work she’s involved in:
“There are some who say that ecumenical work isn’t important, or that we should ‘get our own house in order’ before we begin discussing relationships with other Christians. But relationships with other Christians are at the heart of the Christian life. They are our fellow members of the Body of Christ, and St. Paul cautions us against telling these members ‘I have no need of you.’ (1 Cor 12:21).
“A full communion partnership with the United Methodist Church would be particularly sweet. Methodism originally arose as a reform of Anglicanism as practiced in England in the 18th century. John Wesley, its founder, proudly died an Anglican. It is a great travesty that our ancestors were not able to find a way to accept the gifts that both ways of being Anglican Christians brought to the table, and to be reconciled now would be an inspiring witness to the world, as well as bringing us closer to the imitation of Christ.” – The Rev. Jordan Haynie Ware
If the dialogue stays on track, the committee hopes to submit resolutions to the next General Convention (our main governing body) in 2018 and also to the General Conference (the United Methodists’ main governing body) to formally approve the full communion relationship.
In May, the United Methodist Church’s Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships hosted the Dialogue Committee in Washington, D.C., with support from the Episcopal Church’s Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations.
“In its next meetings, the Dialogue Committee will agree to the content of resolutions to be submitted to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church and the General Conference of The United Methodist Church. The Committee will also seek to identify and encourage local expressions of existing unity in mission between Episcopalians and United Methodists—in congregations, theological education, advocacy, worship, and service.”
The most recent version of the proposal is titled “Assist Us to Proclaim the Gospel: A Proposal for Full Communion.”
The agreement with each denomination is unique, with some commonalities. In practice, full communion usually means, among other things, that our two denominations’ clergy can serve in each other’s churches and use each other’s liturgies, and our bishops can participate in each other’s consecrations. Our members can share together in the sacraments and form creative partnerships.
“Sharing in holy things creates a visible communion of the faithful, an ecclesial communion.” – The Episcopal Church website
Current Full Communion Agreements
Past dialogues have resulted in our joining in full communion partnerships with five other denominations so far: the Moravian Church (Northern and Southern Provinces), the Mar Thoma Syrian Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Philippine Independent Church, and the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht.
For The Episcopal Church to create a full communion agreement with The United Methodist Church – or with any denomination – two critical areas are catholicity and independence. The term catholicity refers to wholeness or universality; our two denominations agree enough about our doctrine, our exercise of ministry, and the sacraments, that we see the Church fully represented in each other. Our two denominations also recognize that we have distinct identities and structures; full communion does NOT mean merging. It encourages sharing resources, however, including people and places.
The full communion relationship between the Episcopalians and the ELCA is the ground, for example, of the Common Grace Lutheran congregation that meets at St. Luke’s in Stephenville under the leadership of one of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth’s clergy, the Rev. Curt Norman.
Ongoing and potential future partnerships
Some of the other resolutions before the Convention also deal with ecumenical dialogues with other denominations.
Resolution A017 affirms ongoing dialogues: Presbyterian Episcopal Dialogue, Anglican Roman Catholic Consultation in the USA, as well as relationships among the primates of The Episcopal Church, the ELCA, the Anglican Church of Canada, and The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.