As the United Church of Christ and the United Church of Canada converge on their path toward full communion, both sides are recognizing the similarities and distinctiveness of their churches and are using that to fuel their work this week. Leaders from each denomination are gathering for three days from June 3-5 at the UCC's national setting in Cleveland.
The Ecumenical Partnership Committee, meeting for the second time since first gathering Feb. 12-14 in Toronto, carries forward the promise of a General Synod 2013 resolution that called for strengthening the relationship between the UCC and the United Church of Canada.
"This process I think is a recognition that there are some similarities between us, and we've been looking at where we find the differences and common ground," said the Rev. Bruce Gregerson, general council officer for the United Church of Canada and an Ecumenical Partnership committee member. "The differences we have are also gifts where we might learn from each other."
The two churches share other similarites through their passion for social justice annd peace, inclusion of LGBT people and ordination of women.
|Joint Full Communion Committee for each denomination|
|United Church of Canada||United Church of Christ|
|Prof. Mark Toulouse||Rev. Sue Davies|
|Rev. Daniel Hayward||Rev. David Greenhaw|
|Rev. Danielle Ayiana James||Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson|
|Rev. Cheryl-Ann Stadelbauer-Sampa||Rev. Campbell Lovett|
|Rev. Bruce Gregersen||Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson|
|Ms. Nora Sanders||Rev. Geoffrey Black|
The Ecumenical Partnership Committee, with six representatives from each church, is developing a common document that will go to the United Church of Canada's General Council and the UCC's General Synod, both of which will be held in 2015. The document will be drafted by this winter, in readiness for 2015, since General Council takes place every three years compared to every two for General Synod. Each committee includes a seminary representative, a theologian, a conference representative, a pastor, an ecumenical staff member and the head of communion.
"I expect at the next meeting we will begin to develop some of the language and the functional and institutional connections between the churches," said the Rev. Susan Davies, a retired theologian at Bangor Theological Seminary.
The UCC has full communion agreements with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a Formula of Agreement with the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and a "Kirchengemeinshaft" with the Union of Evangelical Churches in Germany (UEK).
The partnership with the UCC would be a first for United Church of Canada, which doesn't have any full communion agreements with other denominations.
The UCC and the United Church of Canada began a formal conversation in April 2012, when the UCC made a historical visit to the United Church of Canada offices in Toronto. The denominations met again in April 2013 at the UCC's National Offices in Cleveland.
"We're impressed by the United Church of Christ's capacity to articulate its identity in U.S. society, and how it has become a diverse church," Gregerson said. "That for us is a journey we need to be about."
There are two more meetings planned between the UCC and United Church of Canada as they move closer toward a full communion agreement. The next in October is in Canada, while the final gathering in January 2015 will be in Florida.
"We spent some good time together in February, and because of that we've moved to a place where we can risk being bold and putting daring possibilities on what that fuller communion might look like," said the Rev. Danielle Ayana James, an Ecumenical Partnership Committee member for the United Church of Canada. "There are some concrete steps that have emerged and formed that let us think of the 'what-ifs' down the road."