The United Methodist Church Council of Bishops made moves last week to bring their denomination one step closer to full communion with the Episcopal Church. At their meeting, the United Methodist bishops approved legislation to carry out the full communion proposal, entitled “A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers for the Healing of Brokenness.” This decision means that the proposal will be evaluated by the UMC General Conference in 2020 and the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in 2021.
This full communion proposal comes after years of intentional interdenominational dialogue between the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church, according to the full communion proposal:
“In the 1950s, there were substantive conversations between the (then) Methodist Church and the (then) Protestant Episcopal Church. However, these bilateral conversations were set aside in favor of both churches’ membership in the Consultation on Church Union (COCU). For nearly forty years, The Episcopal Church and The United Methodist Church related to one another by means of our participation in COCU. Following COCU’s reconstitution as Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC) in 1999, The Episcopal Church and The United Methodist Church each decided in 2000 to commence the first direct bilateral dialogue with one another in nearly fifty years.”
The most recent round of bilateral dialogues began in 2002.
Despite these connections in recent decades, though, the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church share common heritage in the Church of England that far predates any modern dialogue. Just as the Episcopal Church traces its roots to the Church of England, the Methodist movement in the late 18th Century was founded by John Wesley, an Anglican priest. These common roots, and a conviction in Jesus’ words that we “all may be one” in the Gospel of John, serve as foundational principles guiding this work.
In an interview with UM News, the Rev. Margaret Rose, the Episcopal Church’s deputy for ecumenical and interfaith collaboration, reflected on this dialogue, saying:
“One of our prayers in communion is that we reveal the unity of the church…That, to me, is about uncovering something that is already there. Part of this full communion conversation is exactly about that.”
Yet, the full communion proposal wouldn’t quite make us all one. A full communion partnership wouldn’t merge the two traditions but would recognize the validity of the sacraments of the partner tradition and allow the sharing of clergy between the two traditions. Under the agreement, Episcopal clergy could serve in Methodist churches and Methodist clergy could serve in Episcopal Churches. Furthermore, beginning in 2022, consecrations of bishops in either tradition would include bishops of the other church participating in the consecration. Each of the two traditions already has multiple full communion partners and the UMC and Episcopal Church even share some of these partners, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Moravian Church.
The complete full communion proposal can be found online on the Episcopal Church’s website.