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Bishops strengthen ties with Episcopalians

In a meeting last Fall, the Council of Bishops moved The United Methodist Church a step closer toward full communion with the Episcopal Church.

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The bishops authorized the preparation of legislation to carry out the full communion proposal —"A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers for the Healing of Brokenness."

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.

United Methodist and Episcopal leaders discuss the work toward full communion during the Council of Bishops meeting on St. Simons Island, Ga. From left are United Methodist Bishop Gregory V. Palmer of the West Ohio Conference, the Rev. Canon C.K. Robertson of the Episcopal Church and the Rev. Margaret Rose of the Episcopal Church. Photo by Heather Hahn, UMNS.

"This full communion agreement is not proposing a merger of our churches," the proposal says. "Yet we seek to live into the vision given to us by Jesus, who prayed that we may all be one."

"All of us, as bishops of The United Methodist Church, have been consecrated to the work of unity — unity within The United Methodist Church and unity throughout the whole of the Christian church," Bishop B. Michael Watson told his colleagues. Watson is the Council of Bishops' ecumenical officer.

United Methodists and Episcopalians have joined in bilateral talks since 2002, said the Rev. Kyle Tau, a Council of Bishops ecumenical staff officer who has helped with the dialogue.

As the proposed agreement notes, the denominations are "blessed in that neither of our churches, or their predecessor bodies, have officially condemned one another."

The connections go deeper than a simple lack of rancor. Both denominations can claim the Church of England as a mother church. Arguably, they owe their separation less to theological differences than to the disruption of the American Revolution.

Both denominations also have struggled with the sin of racism. As "A Gift to the World" notes, the churches share common forebears in Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, both members of St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.

Because of the racial discrimination that existed at St. George's at the time, the future Bishop Allen would go on to found what would become the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Jones would become the first African-American priest ordained in The Episcopal Church.

"We recognize the lasting sin of racism in our society and our churches and affirm the need for ongoing repentance, truth telling, and work for racial justice and healing", says the proposed full communion agreement. 

"We've turned a corner in many ways in the communion as we focus once again on our relationships in Christ as opposed to focusing on our disagreements," said Rev. Canon C.K. Roberston, who acts as a sort of chief diplomat for the Episcopal Church.

In 45 years of United Methodist ministry, Watson said he has seen ecumenical engagement in the wider Christian family lead to stronger family bonds closer to home.

Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.

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