Written by Rebecca Woods
Delegates to the 28th General Synod Monday voted overwhelmingly to approve a resolution affirming the Common Agreement on the Mutual Recognition of Baptism.
The Agreement came out of dialogues between the Roman Catholic Church and the four Reformed traditions in the United States.
The United Church of Christ was the final partner to affirm the agreement, which was approved by the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. in 2008, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops in November of last year, and the Reformed Church of America and the Christian Reformed Church at their denominational meetings last month.
Mike Castle, a delegate from Ohio and chair of the committee assigned to consider affirmation of the agreement, told Synod delegates that the conversation in the committee was rich and not without concern.
“Delegates were caught between two strongly held values at the heart of our Christian tradition,” said Castle. “One one hand, there was ecumenical concern and hope for oneness in the church, and on the other hand was the concern for inclusive language that welcomes all and includes all.”
Although the language is limiting with the insistence on the use of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”, Castle said the committee was also very aware of the movement in the document to honor baptism by women and LGBT pastors.
During the discussion prior to the vote, the concern regarding the use of language was voiced again as delegates raised the conflict with the values of the United Church of Christ. But, other delegates were quick to remind them that this will in no way negate local church autonomy in that a pastor and parents will still be able to choose the words they want used in the sacrament.
And, there was also a lot of positive response from delegates.
“I arise in such delightful support of this Common Agreement,” said Kaji Spellman, an Executive Council delegate from New York. “My idea of a theology of baptism is that we baptize in the one true church, far beyond any denominational affiliation.”
In the end, Spellman’s support was reflected by many through the 92.8 percent vote favoring affirmation of the Agreement.
Karen Georgia Thompson, Minister of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, said she believes the Educational Intensive on Friday night and the hearings on Sunday night, gave people an opportunity to understand the essence of the agreement.
“I was very pleased that there was minimum resistance on the Synod floor,” said Thompson. “I think people had hashed out their concerns in the committee. This is another place of new beginning in our ecumenical work. It doesn’t end, it evolves.”
The committee requested that basic liturgical, pastoral, and educational materials be produced to help with interpretation in the churches. Thompson said these resources for the UCC and together with the partner denominations will be published soon and will include the publication of “These Living Waters,” the larger theological piece that came out of the dialogues.
Although there are no dates for a new round of dialogues to begin, Thompson said the next step with these partners will be conversations around the Eucharist.
“We are looking forward to our continued ecumenical engagement with our Formula of Agreement partners as well as the Roman Catholic Church,” she said.