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United Methodists, Catholics finish sixth round of dialogue

 


United Methodists, Catholics finish sixth round of dialogue

May 5, 2005       

By Jerry Filteau*

WASHINGTON (Catholic News Service) — Catholic and United Methodist scholars, meeting in Washington April 29-May 1, called for greater sharing and collaboration between their churches as they concluded a dialogue on the church and church structures.

Their findings will be published in a joint study titled “Through Divine Love: The Church in Each Place and All Places.”

The 20,000-word document is expected to be made public before the end of May. It explores similarities and differences in the structural ways Catholics and United Methodists express and strengthen their communion with one another and with God.

Various levels of conferences express the connectedness of United Methodists, said that denomination’s co-chairman, recently retired Bishop Walter Klaiber of Frankfurt, Germany, in an interview with Catholic News Service.

He said the conferences -- at the local, regional and general levels -- are not just a way of organizing and governing the church, but an expression of being together in the church of Jesus Christ.

Having a German bishop as co-chairman of the dialogue is indicative of the structure of the United Methodist Church, which has 50 episcopal areas in the United States and 18 abroad. The dialogue sponsor on the Catholic side is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
 
Bishop Frederick F. Campbell of Columbus, Ohio, Catholic co-chairman, said the Catholic Church "believes our hierarchical structure is constitutive of the church," with the local church formed of the communion of Catholics around their bishop and the universal church formed by the communion of all the local churches with the church of Rome.
 
Klaiber said the United Methodists also regard the episcopacy as constitutive of their church and they cannot do away with it, “but the reason would be different” than it is for Catholics. United Methodists simply regard episcopacy as the best way in practice to govern church regions, not as something required by divine mandate, he said.

The concept of koinonia or “communio” -- the Greek and Latin terms expressing the idea of the church as a communion or fellowship of believers -- formed a framework for much of the dialogue's approach to understanding similarities in the respective local, regional and global structures of their churches.

“In all ecumenical dialogue we want to begin where there’s common ground,” Campbell explained. He said the koinonia/communio approach derives directly from the Christian understanding of the life of the Trinity, a communion of three persons in the one God.

“The concept of koinonia/communio is especially helpful to bring together the vertical dimension and the horizontal dimension of the church, meaning we are in communion with the triune God and share in the life of the Holy Spirit by sharing with one another,” Klaiber said.

“The koinonia concept best explains the connectedness of the local and global level in both of our churches,” he added.

United Methodists differ from Catholics in their understanding of the universal church, according to Klaiber. While Catholics identify their church as the universal church and see other Christian churches or ecclesial communities as living in imperfect communion with the Catholic Church, “we wouldn’t identify the church universal with any level of our church organization,” he said. “We believe that the church universal is something which includes all communions of baptized Christians.”

One of the aims of the dialogue, he said, is “to highlight the unity which we already share. ... We share a lot of insights, a lot of common practices. One of the aims is to ask theologians, pastors and bishops really to look at what we already share with one another.”

“A second aim is that we ask both our traditions for renewal" by learning from one another, he said. Another goal of the dialogue is a call to their churches, in their common mission, to see how they can work together and respond together “to the challenges all churches face at this time.”

The three-day meeting at the Paulist College in Washington was the ninth session of the sixth round of the U.S. Catholic-Methodist Dialogue, which dates back to 1965. As part of the work of their final session, the participants in the sixth round drew up recommendations to present to their churches on possible topics for the next round of dialogue.

*Catholic News Service, copyright 2005, distributed this story.  Reprinted with permission from Catholic News Service.

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

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