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Council approves interim pacts with Episcopalians, Lutherans

 


A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

Council approves interim pacts with Episcopalians, Lutherans

May 9, 2005

By Tim Tanton*

WASHINGTON (UMNS)—The top clergy leaders of the United Methodist Church have approved interim agreements for sharing the Eucharist with two other mainline denominations—the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The approval came May 5, during the United Methodist Council of Bishops’ weeklong spring meeting in Arlington, Va.

The agreements, if approved later this year by the Lutheran and Episcopalian lawmaking assemblies, would result in those churches and the United Methodist Church sharing worship, particularly communion, studying with one another and being involved in mission together. The United Methodist Church is entering into separate agreements with each of the denominations.

“We will be entering those agreements within a year,” said Bishop William B. Oden, ecumenical officer of the United Methodist council. Oden has been involved in dialogues between the United Methodist Church and the other denominations.

“This is highly significant,” he said. This would be the first time the United Methodist Church has had such a shared communion with any group outside the Methodist tradition—the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches.

The agreements are interim steps toward full communion, in which the United Methodist Church and each of the other denominations recognize the authenticity of each other’s ministries and agree that their ministries are reconciled.

“The plan is for us to enter into full communion with the Lutherans at the General Conference of 2008 and with the Episcopalians at the General Conference of 2012,” Oden said.

Studying and fellowship will occur in the interim. Oden noted that 15 members of the Council of Bishops and 15 members of the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops will go on retreat together Oct. 3-4 in Chicago.

The interim shared communion agreements authorize and urge United Methodist congregations “to worship and to be in study and mission with our two sister denominations,” Oden said.

“This is a historic time of being the body of Christ and connecting the gifts of various parts of the body so that the work and witness of Christ can be more effective and powerful in our communities,” said Bishop Peter Weaver, president of the council and leader of the denomination’s Boston Area.

The communion table is the fundamental place for expressing that United Methodists, Episcopalians and Lutherans are all part of the body of Christ, he said. “Our oneness is in Christ. So these agreements are not just about sharing communion with each other; they’re about our recognizing that we are a part of one body of Christ and thus one mission for Christ in this world.”

The agreements are “a major point in the pathway to full communion, in which we recognize the authenticity and apostolicity of each other’s ministry,” Oden said.

“This is not a movement toward church union, but affirms each denomination’s uniqueness while we worship and work together.”

In other ecumenical action, the council approved of the denomination becoming a provisional member in dialogue with other faith traditions through Christian Churches Together. The dialogue will be inaugurated during a June 1-3 meeting in Los Altos, Calif.

*Tanton is managing editor for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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