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Ecumenical Relations

United States

International : Regional councils | Bilateral relationships | Other churches' relationships
U.S. : Bilateral relationships | Other churches' relationships | Special projects

At the present time the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is in dialogue with the Episcopal Church, the Moravian Church, the Korean American Presbyterian Church, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. This is in addition to participation in international dialogues through the World Council of Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, which have recently included Pentecostal churches, Seventh-day Adventists, Orthodox, among others.

Bilateral relationships

Seventh-day Adventists dialogue

The Seventh-day Adventist Church for North America and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) met for official conversation in an effort to to "gain a clearer understanding of each faith community’s beliefs and practices; to clarify areas of misunderstanding; and to explore possible areas of cooperation." Their joint statement on November 1, stated that "the Adventist Church engages in conversation . . . but is not a member of the ecumenical movement." Nevertheless, the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) internationally has previously had a conversation series with the World Council of Churches, is regularly at the Conference of Secretaries of Christian World Communions (CWC), and has carried out official bilateral dialogues. At the world level, representatives of the SDA Church and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) met in their first official dialogue in August 2006. They found they hold in common a strong belief in the inspiration and authority of Scripture and a common concern for united Christian witness in a time of increased secularism and religious pluralism. The next SDA-WEA meeting will be in August 2007. The U.S. SDA-PC(USA) dialogue was co-chaired by John Graz, the Adventists' world director of public affairs and religious liberty, and Carlos Malave (pictured), PC(USA) assistant stated clerk, and its second round is scheduled for August 2007 in Louisville.

United Methodist and Episcopal congregations have new study guide

Methodists and Anglicans engaged in an important international dialogue from 1992-1996. In the U.S., the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church have been in direct bilateral dialogue since 2002 after having been present together in the Consultation on Church Union (COCU) since the 1960s. In 2006, they voted to enter into a relationship of Interim Eucharistic Sharing similar to that which the Episcopal Church had with the Lutheran Churches in 1982-2001. Interim Eucharistic Sharing is intended to be a step on the way to full communion. The two communions intentionally gather to share in the Eucharist while growing into relationship and continuing to study important issues which need to be resolved before full communion can be reached. Now Make Us One with Christ: A Study Guide has been released on April 1 for congregational use that would culminate in a joint celebration of the Eucharist.

Reformed-Catholic Dialogue refines document on baptism

An October 8-10, 2006 meeting of the U.S. Reformed-Catholic Consultation continued conversation on baptism and its celebration liturgically. Designed to address theological, ecclesial, and pastoral issues, the dialogue will develop a document for use by the respective communions. Co-chairs are Richard Mouw (Reformed/Presbyterian) and Patrick Cooney (Roman Catholic). Also attending from the PC(USA) was Robina Winbush. Others came from the Reformed Church of America, the Christian Reformed Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Lutheran Church in America as observer. After their October 2007 meeting, the consultation's focus will move to the Eucharist.

U.S. Catholic-Anglican dialogue convenes

The drafting of agreed statement in response to the "Seattle Document" of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, was authorized by the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation in the U.S. (ARC-USA) at its meeting in Washington, D.C. on March 8-10. It also heard an initial presentation on a Spanish language document being prepared to clarify the distinctions between the two churches and point to progress in their relationship. ARC-USA is seen by both the Episcopal Church and the Catholic Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs to be an extremely fruitful dialogue. It will next meet on October 18-21, 2007, after which the dialogue will be conducted in rounds, each with a specific topic and some members that are experts on the subject at hand. The next round is set to last about five years.

In addition to formal dialogue, more needs to be done at the local level, said Keith Pecklers of the Pontifical Gregorian University in New York City talks in February. As a Catholic authority on liturgy about what Catholics can learn from Anglicans, he spoke about the reverence and mystery of Anglican worship that is also participatory and lively. He also spoke of his admiration for the transparency with which Anglican address questions.

Lutherans and Catholics discuss life after death

Following the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, jointly signed in October 1999, the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue decided to examine issues related to the Christian's life after death -- such as purgatory, indulgences, and masses and prayers for the dead -- in light of the principles developed in the Declaration. The dialogue includes the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod as well as the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The group last met in mid-March and developed an outline that will guide their further discussion and a possible report to the churches. One of the key convergences they can now affirm, and that will help them deal with their differences, is that "the believer’s communion with Christ, and with all our brothers and sisters who are in Christ, cannot be wholly severed by death.”

U.S.: other churches' relationships

Episcopal Church struggles with Anglican Communion relationships

A group of Anglican primates from the global South stated on July 18 that they had no choice but to continue "to violate the [ecclesiastical] boundaries of the Episcopal Church [EC] and exercise authority over dissident congregations," in the words of a Web Wire news item. The Global South Primates Steering Committee, consisting of seven of the 38 primates in the Anglican Communion, had been meeting in London. Though ecclesiastical boundary crossing has been deemed unacceptable, the activity has been going on for several years, and now the Global South committee says it is also exploring provisions for Anglican Canadians who oppose their church's actions.

Already the Anglican churches of Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda are acting. Rejecting appeals from both the U.S. presiding bishop and the archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria installed Martyn Minns as a bishop in the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) in May. EC presiding bishopKatharine Jefferts Schori said the act displayed "division and disunity that are not part of the mind of Christ." CANA is a mission sponsored by the Church of Nigeria and Minns is a "missionary bishop." He serves as the associate secretary of the Global South Steering Committee. A letter written by Akinola describes CANA as "a safe place for those who wish to remain faithful Anglicans but can no longer do so" in the EC, and Minns has expressed hope that CANA might be a building block toward a replacement for the EC in the Anglican Communion. Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi of the Anglican Church of Kenya plans to consecrate former U.S. Episcopalian Bill Atwood as suffragan bishop of All Saints Cathedral Diocese, Nairobi to "support the international interests of the Anglican Church of Kenya, including support of Kenyan clergy and congregations in North America."

Anglican primates meeting in Tanzania in mid-February discussed their relationship with the U.S. church. Their communique expresses their conclusions. They called for an Anglican Covenant to affirm the principles that hold the Anglican Communion together. They asked the EC to establish a "primatial vicar" to represent the presiding bishop in dioceses uncomfortable with recent EC developments, not to accept for bishop anyone living in a same-gender relationship, and not to authorize same-gender blessings. A month later, the EC House of Bishops pledged to seek "ways of meeting the pastoral concerns of the primates that are compatible with our own polity and canons," but they said providing alternative oversight to some dioceses would be injurious to the church. Their disapproval of the proposed pastoral scheme was confirmed when the EC executive council adopted a document, The Episcopal Church's Commitment to Common Life in Anglican Communion in June. Others may also want to see a study document from the bishops' theology committee, Communion Matters and a study guide to the draft version of the proposed Anglican Covenant.

Time says Anglicans stake unity on "continuing conversation" in contrast to Catholic authoritarianism. The EC bishops have requested a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Williams has announced that he will attend the September 20-25 meeting of the U.S. House of Bishops together with several key primates from conservative Anglican churches. The Anglican archbishop of Uganda has concluded that, though invited to participate, he will not do so.

In May, eight bishops were not sent invitations to the Lambeth Conference (July 16-August 4, 2008), among them Minns and Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who may attend as a non-voting guest. The Global South bishops said they might be unable to attend, given the fact that some of their bishops have not been invited and given the lack of discipline in the Communion. On July 26, the Times of London reported the bishop of Winchester saying that, if the EC does not meet the primates' demands by a September 20 deadline and if bishops of the Global South decline to attend, six in ten of the English bishops might decide to stay away from the Lambeth Conference. Meanwhile, American gay bishop Gene Robinson has told the London Times that both the Church of England (and the EC) has ordained many gay priests, known as such, but that the issue is not openly discussed. "I think integrity is so important," he said.

The Times calls Akinola the most powerful leader in the Anglican Communion. See its article on him.

See also an article about Ephraim Radner, one of the founders of the Anglican Communion Network, who has announced his resignation from it because he believes "it is not the church that can say 'enough is enough' in accommodating sin but God."


Plans for new Baptist gathering come together amidst tensions

As an outcome of a meeting convened by Jimmy Carter and Mercer University president Bill Underwood in April 2006, a North American Baptist Covenant and plans for a 2008 gathering emerged. A group, gathered in January 2007, announced concrete plans for a celebration on January 30-February 1, 2008, in Atlanta under the theme, Unity in Christ. The core group of that gathering came from organizations that are members of the North American Baptist Fellowship (NABF), an affiliate of the Baptist World Alliance. Associated Press characterized the group as "Baptists who have distanced themselves from the conservative Southern Baptist Convention" (SBC). SBC's president has called the initiative leftwing, saying its commitment to social causes is political. Nonetheless, NABF has alerted the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB) and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPF) that they cannot be official participants in the event. NABF's general secretary wrote, "We cannot hold together the large coalition of Baptists needed to create a new Baptist voice in North America and address the issue of sexual orientation at the same time. We ask for your forbearance and understanding.” Although the decision has drawn criticism, it will not bar all the AWAB and BPF members from the gathering since many have overlapping affiliations. AWAB has said its members will visibly call attention to the issue of sexuality.

In the meantime, in June the American Baptists (ABC/USA) and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) will commission two missionary couples together and are organizing a national Islamic-Baptist dialogue.

Church of the Nazarene rethinks sanctification

In February 2007, a conference on "Revisioning Holiness: Looking Back and Pressing Forward" included presentations on the Church of the Nazarene's doctrine of "entire sanctification." The church's general superintendent says it is in a theological crisis as it rethinks this doctrine, Christianity Today reports (see Articles of Faith, X). Others say that rearticulation, not reformation, is happening, the article says. The six district superintendents have issued a revised mission statement, "to make Christ-like disciples . . ."  The Church of the Nazarene is a member of the World Methodist Council and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).

Christian Reformed Church expands its relations with others

On June 10, 2007, some 14,000 worshipers gathered to mark the 150th anniversary of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). The Reformed Church in America and the CRC split in 1857. As part of its 2007 celebratory worship, the CRC offered a prayer of confession repenting for "racism that marred the church's history."  At the same Synod meeting, the CRC asked its interchurch relations committee to hold regional dialogues across the denomination to familiarize churches with the Belhar Confession, which the United Reformed Church in Southern Africa had asked the church to consider. The Synod also decided to remove "male" as a requirement for holding ecclesiastical office. It encouraged all congregations to observe World Communion Sunday in October as part of All Nations Heritage Week, in celebration of CRC being part of a church that spans all nations. WARC general secretary Setri Nyomi spoke at the CRC assembly of worldwide mission partners that coincided with the150th anniversary observance.

Earlier, in May 2007, Disaster Response Services of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee and the RCA's Reformed Church World Service signed a partnership agreement intended to make them more effective when disaster strikes in North America. Many think they the two churches are nearly the same in worship style and theology, though some say if they came together there would be difficulties about their differing institutional expressions and struggles over homosexuality. The two are almost equal in size. Both are members of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. The CRC is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals and the RCA is a National Council of Churches member.

ELCA apologizes for 16th century Lutheran persecution of Anabaptists

The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America approved an action expressing sorrow for the suffering of Anabaptists during 16th century religious disputes and repudiating statements of earlier reformers on the Anabaptists. To read a report from the ELCA-Mennonite Church USA liaison committee, download Right Remembering in Anabaptist-Lutheran Relations.pdf12[1]

Special projects

Social Creed 2008 as an update of the 1908 Social Creed

An ecumenical process is underway to revise the Social Creed adopted in 1908 by the then Federal Council of Churches.  A Presbyterian News Service story says, “A social creed is a statement to orient the church’s witness in the world, like a theological creed orients the church’s witness to the Triune God and the church.” While the new social creed will strengthen common witness, the plan is for each participating church to adapt it for its own use. In the PC(USA), this work rests with the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP). The new creed draft focuses on the issues of globalization and sustainability. You may wish to participate in the Questions for Discussion process being conducted by ACSWP.

MORE on Ecumenical Relations: International

On the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly web site

  • The permanent General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical Relations: information on its membership and responsibilities
  • The Department of Ecumenical and Agency Relationships: resources of the office

On this web site

  • paper icon General Assembly: ecumenical and interfaith business

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