Will the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Continue in COCU?

 — June 19, 199719 juin 1997

by John A. Bolt. Reprinted from “The Presbyterian Outlook”

[DALLAS] Nearly four decades of Presbyterian presence in the Consultation on Church Union (COCU) could come to an end in Syracuse as commissioners to the 209th General Assembly consider whether to proceed in the face of overwhelming presbytery rejection of the mechanism proposed to participate in the envisioned structures of a united Christian church in the United States.

By a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent, presbyteries rejected amendments to the “Book of Order” that would have created commissions of elders and ministers to participate in the “covenanting councils” that would be created to oversee ecumenical matters under the COCU proposals.

The Rev. Michael Livingston of Princeton, N.J., who has chaired the Assembly’s Special Committee on COCU since 1993, isn’t ready to give up, but acknowledges that “there is an impression throughout the church — I don’t know how broad or how deep — that by voting against these amendments, the church has voted not to participate in the consultation.”

That’s just what an overture from Plains and Peaks Presbytery seeks to do. “We’re not saying we don’t believe in ecumenism, but that we already have it,” said the Rev. Robert Dooling, pastor of Mountain View United Presbyterian Church in Loveland, Colo., and a longtime activist in the campaign to end PC(USA) participation in COCU. “As far as I’m concerned, this thing’s a dinosaur. It’s an effort left over from the early ’60s and it’s not going to work.”

Alongside the Plains and Peaks overture, commissioners will consider the committee’s proposed report to COCU’s 1998 plenary meeting, called to hear how the nine member churches have responded to “Churches in Covenant Communion: The Church of Christ Uniting,” the 1988 document that establishes a structure for the member churches.

The report gives a brief history of PC(USA) participation in COCU, which was formed two years after a 1960 speech by Eugene Carson Blake, then stated clerk of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. General Assembly, in which he invited Episcopalians to lead an effort to create one church that would be “truly catholic and truly reformed.”

The COCU proposal, as it evolved through the years, does not call for merging of the participating denominations, but instead suggests “a covenantal communion in faith, sacrament, ministry and mission.” At last year’s Assembly, the committee recommended changes in the “Book of Order,” including the creation of the office of “representative bishop,” to allow the PC(USA) to participate in the local covenanting councils. The Assembly largely rejected the proposal, creating its own structure that called for a commission of minister and elder representatives instead.

That revamped proposal was sent to the presbyteries, but was rejected by a 98-63 vote with two presbyteries voting “no action” — 24 affirmative votes shy of passage.

Both the overture and the committee’s report stress that the Presbyterian Church remains committed to ecumenism and to a unity of the faith, but — as the report notes — “there seem to be conflicting visions of how that unity is to be manifested.”

The report outlines nine “messages” it says the debate has generated, including reluctance to create new structures, whether local or centralized; a desire to include more than the nine churches currently involved in COCU; and an insistence that the partner churches take the Presbyterian elder seriously “as an integral part of our polity.”

The report asks for a reaffirmation of the PC(USA)’s commitment “to seek a more visible manifestation of the unity God wills for the church.” In addition, “we anticipate that, following the 1998 COCU plenary, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will wish to propose further steps necessary to move toward full communion in a covenant relationship.”

But Dooling says it’s time to give up. “Basically the reasons are this: We believe that we are already doing in essence what the COCU proposal wants to do in a vast majority of our communities and we’re already doing those things on a far broader basis. We don’t need to do what we’re already doing,” he said. “We see Christians working together all around the world without any kind of ecclesiastical structure to make it work.”

He also questions the amount of money that has been spent so far and wonders if further spending is wise in this time of dwindling resources. And he points to the absence of some significant denominations, especially the Lutherans and Southern Baptists.

Livingston often notes that three of the nine churches are historically black and argues that COCU offers a unique opportunity at racial reconciliation. But Dooling says, “I am not convinced we need another ecclesiastical structure to do that.”

Besides the PC(USA), partner COCU churches are African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Episcopal Church, International Council of Community Churches, United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church.

Posted: June 19, 1997 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=4915
Categories: News, OpinionIn this article: Christian unity, church union, Consultation on Church Union, ecumenism, Presbyterian Church USA
Transmis : 19 juin 1997 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=4915
Catégorie : News, OpinionDans cet article : Christian unity, church union, Consultation on Church Union, ecumenism, Presbyterian Church USA

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