By unanimous voice vote the Council of Bishops approved asking General Conference to agree to full communion with a denomination that, like The United Methodist Church, has historic ties to John Wesley's Church of England.
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Full communion means each church acknowledges the other as a partner in the Christian faith, recognizes the validity of each other's baptism and Eucharist, and commits to work together in ministry. Such an agreement also means Episcopalians and United Methodists can share clergy.
"It's always a great opportunity when we talk about full communion to say what it is and what it is not," Bishop Gregory V. Palmer told his colleagues. "It's not an organic merger, two denominations becoming one, but the reminder that we see in one another the signs of church — one holy catholic and apostolic church."
Palmer, who leads the West Ohio Conference, also serves as co-chair of the United Methodist and Episcopal dialogue committee.
By virtue of the long-scheduled church meetings, The United Methodist Church's top lawmaking body will have first crack at the full-communion agreement when it meets May 5-15, 2020, in Minneapolis.
If the pact wins approval there, it will next head to The Episcopal Church's General Convention in July 2021 in Baltimore.
The bishops' decision to press ahead with full communion comes after the special General Conference in February.
In some ways, The Episcopal Church has already made the same journey United Methodists are on but in a different direction.
Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, the president of the Council of Bishops, said that after General Conference, he heard from Episcopal bishops who offered solidarity. The majority of United Methodist bishops had backed a plan that would have allowed more freedom on questions of marriage and ordination.
In April, the United Methodist-Episcopal dialogue committee met for a previously scheduled meeting and February's General Conference was part of the discussion.
Retired Bishop Rosemarie Wenner told the Council of Bishops she appreciated that the statement acknowledged The United Methodist Church's situation but still struck a hopeful note.
"There is no silence about where we are, and yet we move forward in relationship," said Wenner, who served in Germany and now works as Geneva secretary for the World Methodist Council.
She acknowledged that like all retired bishops she has voice but not vote at council meetings but offered her hearty gratitude.
"The goal of full communion and the role of bilateral conversations was to find the common ground, but it was not primarily driven by a mission of fixing one another," Palmer said.
The ultimate goal, he said, is being together with one another.
excerpt from a story by Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, United Methodist News Service
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