From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: Episcopalians work as well as pray for church unity

Date Tue, 21 Jan 2003 15:59:44 -0500

January 21, 2003


Episcopalians: Episcopalians work as well as pray for church 

by James Solheim

(ENS) In the days leading up to this year's celebration of the 
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity January 18-25, two teams of 
Episcopalians joined representatives of other Christian 
communions at an interdenominational seminary on the campus of a 
Baptist university in Birmingham, Alabama, in the continuing 
search for the unity of the church. 

The ministry task force of Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC) had 
been invited to hold its January meeting at Beeson Divinity 
School on the Samford University campus by Dr. Patricia Outlaw 
of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a faculty member at 
Beeson and a member of the task force.

Because of the importance of the Episcopal-Presbyterian 
bilateral conversation, authorized by the last General 
Convention, to the CUIC partnership, that dialogue was scheduled 
to precede the CUIC meeting--and in the same location--in order 
to provide some continuity and even overlap. 

Neither the Episcopal Church nor the Presbyterian Church USA 
(PCUSA) found themselves able to move forward with the 
Consultation on Church Union's (COCU) plans for "covenant 
communion" in the 1990s, but both churches agreed to engage in 
the on-going process of Churches Uniting in Christ. That process 
includes both anti-racism initiatives undertaken together and a 
serious dialogue on "ministry," which was the stumbling block 
for Presbyterians and Episcopalians.

The issue of ministry

"It is understandable," pointed out Bishop Douglas Theuner of 
the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, co-convenor of the 
Episcopal-Presbyterian dialogue, "that two communions which take 
their very names from their polity around ordained ministry 
would take those issues very seriously. They go to the heart of 
our self-understanding. Our two communions form the 'bookends' 
in the CUIC dialogue with respect to ordained ministry. 
Therefore, some intentional time in bilateral conversation can 
serve the overall CUIC process well," he said.

In this spirit, 14 Episcopalians and Presbyterians spent January 
13-14 reviewing the chapter on "Ministry" from the 1984 "COCU 
Consensus" and sharing their denominational responses. Points of 
convergence include the fact that both churches have "a form of 
three-fold ministry," that each makes decisions in councils of 
clergy and laity together, and that both value the ministry of 
episcope or "oversight," although in somewhat different ways. 
The two communions diverge in their understanding of the 
"personalized" nature of that oversight, in the understanding of 
the necessity of the historic episcopate for full communion, and 
over the specific issue of the Presbyterian elder being fully 
understood as a "presbyter."

The next meeting of the dialogue, scheduled for June 5-7, 2003, 
will include the presentation of several papers from both 
partners: "The Theory and Practice of Episcope"; "Ministry: 
Ordained and Unordained"; and a survey of Episcopal-Presbyterian 
conversations from the 19th century up to the present day.

Unfinished tasks

Bishop Stacy Sauls of the Diocese of Lexington and Prof. J. 
Robert Wright of the General Theological Seminary in New York 
represented the Episcopal Church at the CUIC's ministry task 
force meeting which followed on January 15-17. Both said they 
were encouraged as they heard the report of the 
Episcopal-Presbyterian dialogue from Bishop Christopher Epting, 
the church's deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations. 
They were also encouraged as the agenda unfolded -- an agenda 
that also included discussion of the Ministry chapter of "The 
COCU Consensus," as well as specific insights now available from 
"Called To Common Mission" (the full communion agreement between 
the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in 
America) and the "Formula of Agreement" (the full communion 
agreement between the ELCA and the United Church of Christ, the 
Presbyterian Church USA, and the Reformed Church in America).

The ELCA is now a "partner in mission and dialogue," though not 
a full member of Churches Uniting in Christ. The nine member 
churches of CUIC are the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the 
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Church 
(Disciples of Christ), the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, 
the Episcopal Church, the International Council of Community 
Churches, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of 
Christ, and the United Methodist Church.

The next meeting of the CUIC ministry task force will be June 
3-5, 2003 and will tackle some unfinished tasks in the search 
for unity. Wright has been named as one of the members of a 
writing team whose task it will be to bring the first draft of a 
document pointing the way toward full communion for the nine 
member churches and a process for the recognition and 
reconciliation of ministries necessary for such a relationship.


This article is based on reports from participants in the two 

--James Solheim is director of Episcopal News Service.

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