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Bishops to consider provisional membership in ecumenical group

 


Bishops to consider provisional membership in ecumenical group

April 26, 2005       

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS)—The United Methodist Council of Bishops will consider provisional membership in Christian Churches Together in the USA when it meets May 1-6 in Washington.

Bishop William B. Oden of Dallas, the council’s ecumenical officer, told members of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns that denominational officials still have questions regarding the new ecumenical group, particularly in regard to participation by the traditional black churches, which are currently absent.

But the bishops have decided to consider provisional membership for the denomination rather than observer status. “The more we looked at it, the more we thought the United Methodists should help shape it, rather that sit at the table without voice or vote,” Oden explained.

Conceived in 2001, Christian Churches Together is a developing organization aimed at bringing together mainline Protestants, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Evangelical and Pentecostal for “expanded Christian conversation.”

CCT will be officially inaugurated during a June 1-3 meeting at a Jesuit retreat center in Los Altos, Calif. An inaugural worship service is planned at Washington Cathedral in September.

Oden said he doesn’t believe there will be a conflict between CCT and the National Council of Churches because the new group will focus more on fellowship and conversation than advocacy.

Under provisional membership, the denomination will have time to explore the ramifications of involvement in CCT before bringing it to the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, its top legislative body, for a vote, according to Oden.

Issues about CCT that need to be clarified, according to the Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive of the Commission on Christian Unity, include the current absence of African-American churches at the table and the future of the NCC in relation to CCT. The roles of women and laity in the new organization also need to be considered, he said.

Acting during their April 21-24 spring meeting, commission members approved a statement supporting provisional membership in CCT, noting that such membership “provides a covenant relationship in which the United Methodist Church can be a part of a broad ecumenical fellowship and conversation, including associations with church partners it might not otherwise have.”

The statement joins CCT in lamenting “our often diffuse and diminished voice on matters critical to the gospel in our society,” but also seeks clarity about the organization’s mission and purpose in achieving “full communion in faith, mission and sacramental life within the Body of Christ” as well as its interest in facilitating interfaith conversation.

Lamenting historic divisions in the church over race, the commission wants to know how the CCT “will strive to be racially and ethnically inclusive.” It asks the bishops to address concerns of the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches “and ascertain their willingness to participate in CCT in partnership with the United Methodist Church.”

The statement cautions that membership in CCT “should not undermine the work or importance of other ecumenical covenants,” including the role of United Methodists in the National Council of Churches, Churches Uniting in Christ and the Commission on Pan Methodist Cooperation and Union.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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