Communion agreement between two North American churches receives final approval

 — Aug. 14, 201514 aoüt 2015
By Kristine Greenaway

An historic vote in Canada has set the stage for close cooperation between two North American churches.

The General Council of the United Church of Canada, meeting at Corner Brook in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, voted unanimously on 13 August to adopt a proposal for “Full Communion” with the United Church of Christ in the United States. This is the first time such a proposal has been adopted by the Canadian church. The announcement of the result of the vote was greeted with a standing ovation.

The term “Full Communion” is used for formal agreements between churches that acknowledge they share a common vision of Christian mission and agree to engage in joint ministry and to call one another’s ministers as pastors.

Prior to voting, General Council delegates were shown a video of members of the General Synod of the United Church of Christ singing the national anthem of Canada to celebrate their unanimous vote in support of the proposal at the Synod’s meeting in Cleveland in June 2015. In response, General Council members rose spontaneously to sing the American national anthem.

The agreement between the United Church of Christ and the United Church of Canada will take effect in October 2015 at a celebration in the city of Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada on the border with the United States. A joint worship service and a time of fellowship will mark the event.

Both churches are members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).

Rev. Geoffrey Black, who retired recently as general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, was in Corner Brook to witness the vote. Also present were Rev. Dr Campbell Lovett, conference minister for the Michigan Conference of the United Church of Christ and Karen Georgia Thompson, Minister for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations.

Ecumenical hope

In an interview with WCC Communication, Black said the agreement was “a natural”.

“We are justice-seeking churches and we share a continent. Many members cross the border regularly and worship together. There is cross-border cooperation at the regional level. It’s natural that our national church bodies would build on and affirm these relations. Together, we will have a stronger voice in our capital cities, Washington and Ottawa.”

Black notes too that in discussions about the agreement, church leaders agreed it could lead to sharing global mission staff as a joint venture.

The United Church of Christ is already engaged in three Full Communion agreements: one with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and another with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Reformed Church in America. The third is with the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD).

In an interview with WCC Communication prior to the vote, Thompson, who represents her church in global ecumenical forums such as the WCC and WCRC, noted the agreement is generating energy and excitement in ecumenical circles beyond North America: “This is the ecumenical hope. It’s one way of experiencing Christian unity without merging our denominational structures.”

Although there were no serious obstacles to the Full Communion agreement, Thompson acknowledges that discussions were “permeated” by the question of national identity.

“The problem was not each church’s understanding of the Full Communion agreement. The question was, what does it mean to live with this international border. For example, what does it mean to Canada’s First Nations and to Native Americans?” Thompson asks. Indigenous people in the two countries do not recognize the border that divides their traditional lands and hunting patterns.

The terms of the Full Communion agreement between the two North American churches differs in at least one key respect from other trans-border agreements such as those with the Leuenberg Agreement that sets the terms for closer relations among Reformed and Lutheran churches in Europe.

“This is perhaps the first transnational agreement in the world that would involve a process for a formal exchange of ministers. In Europe, agreements between Reformed and Lutheran churches are not about exchange of ministers,” Thompson notes.

The agreement between the two North American churches comes at a time when it is increasingly difficult for people to cross the border between Canada and the United States to accept employment, yet the exchange of ministry personnel is a key component of the agreement. The agreement also raises questions about what the United Church of Christ’s existing Full Communion agreements might mean for The United Church of Canada’s relations with those same churches.

Thompson acknowledges that the vote today begins a process of implementation that will include exploring questions such as these.

“The agreement is not an end; it is a beginning,” she says.

Posted: Aug. 14, 2015 • Permanent link:
Categories: WCC NewsIn this article: Christian unity, full communion, United Church of Canada, United Church of Christ
Transmis : 14 aoüt 2015 • Lien permanente :
Catégorie : WCC NewsDans cet article : Christian unity, full communion, United Church of Canada, United Church of Christ

  Previous post: Ancien article : Rowan Williams: Violence is an unavoidable part of being human
  Newer post: Article récent : WCC general secretary reflects on prayer, work and pilgrimage on 75th anniversary of Taizé Community