The United Church of Christ and the United Church of Canada have decided to meet in Cleveland in June to continue to lay the groundwork between the two churches in a move toward a full communion agreement. The Ecumenical Partnership Committee, with six representatives from each denomination, wrapped up the first meeting in Canada on Feb. 14, and plan to have at least three more sessions in 2014, in hopes that both churches have a communion agreement each can take before their governing bodies in June 2015.
The churches have set a second meeting for June 2014 in Cleveland, with the United Church of Christ as host.
Here is a full statement from the Ecumenical Partnership Committee between the United Church of Christ and the United Church of Canada:
The United Ecumenical Partnership Committee of The United Church of Christ and The United Church of Canada met February 12 through 14 in Toronto in the first of four meetings scheduled over the year. The intention is to have recommendations concerning a full communion agreement prepared for the senior governing councils of both denominations before the summer of 2015.
The denominations bring to this conversation a long history of working relationships through various North American and global connections. These have involved common global partners, in some cases shared overseas appointments, common actions on North American justice issues, frequent connections of national staff, and many interactions across regional judicatories.
The committee began its work by exploring the meaning of full communion and the patterns established by similar agreements throughout the world. The experience of the 25-year-old full communion agreement between the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was also reviewed.
The words of Jesus from John 17:21, “That All May Be One,” which both denominations use on their crests, was the focus of two biblical studies and contributed to the exploration and conversation on Christian unity. The image of “longing” for the unity of Christ’s followers, and the quality of “as if” were lifted up. The committee noted that full communion does not imply organic unity; the two denominations will remain distinct, but in such an agreement something must change to produce visible unity. Many agreements contain the mutual recognition and orderly exchange of authorized ministries, and the committee recognizes this as a component of the agreement that will require further work and study. The commitments to common mission must also flow out of such agreements.
The committee discussed the implications of two northern churches undertaking this exploration and identified the importance of the language of accountability. Any possible full communion agreement between the churches must be accountable to the global Christian community in strengthening each of the churches’ capacity for God’s mission. While the two churches share the same location, mutuality was also cited as necessary to ensure that the voices for both churches were reflected in the agreement. The committee also affirmed its desire that this agreement open up new possibilities of collaboration for united and uniting churches elsewhere in the world.
The challenging contexts of their own situations were raised by each church, and they affirmed the need for new forms of collaboration. It was noted that both denominations travelled similar paths in commitments to social justice and inclusion. Both denominations have a commitment to significant openness in theological exploration and noted the possibilities of exploring together emerging languages of faith for a new time.
A major focus of this meeting was on how each church expresses its beliefs and doctrines. Conversations included the meaning of doctrine and statements of faith; what does it mean to understand oneself as a non-creedal church; how are tensions between practice and formal beliefs lived out; and where is God’s Spirit at work and how does this connect with faith and belief?
The committee will meet again in June 2014 in Cleveland and will focus on understandings and practices of baptism, membership, and communion; convergences and divergences; and ministry. The committee will begin work on a vision statement for the agreement as part of the continued focus on possibilities of shared mission and in order to give definition to the particular meaning of full communion for the two churches.