From the Worldwide Faith News archives

COCU churches will enter new relationship in January

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Mon, 17 Dec 2001 14:03:38 -0600

Dec. 17, 2001 News media contact: Linda Bloom7(212) 870-38037New York

By United Methodist News Service

The January transition of the Consultation on Church Union (COCU) into a new
entity will mean more than just a name change for the 40-year-old ecumenical

COCU "has a huge unrealized potential" that will be better used through the
new relationship being formed by the nine member denominations, according to
the Rev. Bruce Robbins, chief executive of the United Methodist Commission
on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

"That's because Churches Uniting in Christ offers concrete relationships and
procedures for interaction at a congregational and district level," he

Born from a unanimous vote during a January 1999 meeting in St. Louis, the
concept of Churches Uniting in Christ is now being formalized. Events during
the Jan. 18-21 inaugural celebration in Memphis, Tenn., will include
workshops, worship, a nuts-and-bolts business session, and a special
ceremony on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday for the reading and signing of
the organization's "Appeal to the Churches on Combating Racism."

The Memphis celebration will be "a chance to expose a wider group of people
to what Churches Uniting in Christ could be," said the Rev. Kathryn
Bannister, a United Methodist pastor from Bison, Kan., and secretary of
COCU's executive committee. 

Besides the United Methodist Church, other members are the African Methodist
Episcopal (AME) Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) Church,
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME)
Church, Episcopal Church, International Council of Community Churches,
Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ.

Member denominations are encouraged to express as many "visible marks" of
the Churches Uniting in Christ as possible. Those marks include mutual
recognition of each other as authentic expressions of the one church of
Jesus Christ; mutual recognition of baptism, ordained ministry and the
apostolic faith of scripture and tradition; and provisions to regularly
celebrate the Eucharist together and engage in mission, particularly in
regard to racism. Members also pledge an intentional commitment to promote
unity, conduct an ongoing theological dialogue and create structures for
accountability and decision-making.

Bannister envisions a shift from the more institutional nature of COCU to an
actual movement "where responsibility and ownership of Churches Uniting in
Christ really resides within the member churches themselves." Issues such as
common baptism, sharing of the Eucharist and efforts against racism will
become more central, she added.

Robbins believes Churches Uniting in Christ can bridge the gap between
denominational policies and visions about ecumenism and what actually occurs
within local churches. For example, he said, the new entity could develop a
common baptismal certificate for use within local churches as "an important
symbolic item for ecumenism." It also could help churches from the different
traditions participate in one another's ordination ceremonies on a local or
conference level.

Such a theological connection already occurs in Ecumenical Shared
Ministries, where dwindling congregations of two or three denominations may
blend to form a new congregation, he noted.

Total theological agreement has not been reached among all members, as
COCU's 1999 document acknowledged. "We seek a process by which the ordained
ministries of each participating church can become one ministry in Jesus
Christ in relation to all, a process of reconciliation that has already
begun and yet seeks its fulfillment," the document said. "We acknowledge
that up to now we have not been able to find ways of completing this process
that are agreeable to all."

For example, a sticking point for the Presbyterians and Episcopalians,
Robbins said, is "an understanding of what it means to be a bishop" and how
bishops and ministers relate. Churches Uniting in Christ will establish a
process to address specifically such ministry issues, with a goal of full
reconciliation of ministries by 2007.

The commitment to the eradication of racism is especially crucial. Churches
Uniting in Christ will not be authentic "until we all are very aware that
racism, more than anything else, continues to divide us as churches,"
Robbins said. What the member communions accomplish in that arena "will be
the test case of our commitment and intentionality of moving toward some
kind of covenant union that is more than a document on paper," he said.

United Methodist delegates to the inaugural celebration in Memphis are
Bannister; the Rev. Ellen Brubaker of Grand Rapids, Mich.; Garlinda Burton
of Nashville, Tenn.; Ascension "Inday" Day of Brewster, N.Y.; Bishop Elias
Galvan of Seattle; the Rev. Kama Hamilton-Morton of Chester, Mont.; Maggie
Jackson of Warrensville, Ohio; Yong Lee of Ames, Iowa; Mattheue Locklear of
Maxton, N.C.; Bishop A. Frederick Mutti of Topeka, Kan.; Shirley Readdean of
Schenectady, N.Y.; and Bishop Melvin Talbert, the denomination's ecumenical
officer, of Brentwood, Tenn. Alternates are Robbins and Veena Srinivas-Black
of Decatur, Ga.   

More information is available at, the Web site for Churches
Uniting in Christ.
# # #

United Methodist News Service
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