The Rev. David Simmons discusses the proposed full communion agreement between the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church with that well known cradle Episcopalian, Willy Wonka.
Simmons writes in the blog Preaching from the Rood Screen:
The public announcement of the new proposed Full-Communion agreement between the Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church was officially released yesterday, and the response on social media has been… interesting.
As a person who has been working for years inside the faith and order side of ecumenism for the Episcopal Church, it has been painful to see some of the old bugaboos of classism that is a hallmark of the Episcopal Church come to the surface. In addition, there has been some unwitting or sometimes apparently willful ignorance about both historic Episcopal and Methodist theology. I thought I might be able to get to the bottom of some of this by having a conversation with that most mercurial of fictional Episcopalians, Willy Wonka.
In the process, he answers many questions Episcopalians might have:
First of all, I don’t like the whole idea of merger with another church! I’m an Episcopalian for a reason! It’s the only way I can maintain the ecclesiastical fantasy world that parallels the one in my factory.
This is a full-communion agreement, not a merger. It enables shared ministry by allowing clergy of one denomination to serve in the other without re-ordination. It does not propose sustantive changes in liturgy, practice or governance (Other than mutual particpation in ordinations)for either church.
Isn’t this just really about the saucy problems with human sexuality the Methodists are having? Why don’t they just come back to us if they are unhappy?
No. This dialogue has been in process for fifty years. It is now just coming to fruition. Yes, the Methodists are facing their moment with human sexuality just like we did with the Righter Trial and the General Conventions of 2003 and 2015. But telling them to just give up their identity and “come back to us” (as if we are not equal siblings of the revolution) has roots in the biggest thing that divides us — our historic class division. (Side notes: Both denominations have had and continue to have problems with racism, so I am not going to touch that here. Likewise, while TEC has certainly made what I consider progress on LGBTQ issues, we still have eight dioceses who do not allow clergy in same-sex marriages to serve, while there are many LGBTQ clergy in the UMC who serve under very difficult circumstances. We don’t have a “higher ground” to stand on regarding this.)
Vance Packard, in his 1959 book “The Status Seekers” notes that Americans then were much more likely to attend churches that corresponded to their social class than with any sort of doctrinal focus in mind. At the top of the heap were Episcopalians, who were the church of the ruling class. The often-repeated fact that 11 of our presidents have been Episcopalian while we represent less than 1% of the population is but one indicator of that historic truth.
Packard notes that “Methodism probably comes closer to being the choice of the average American than any other.” While these class distinctions have started to erode since 1959, they still exist.
Read it all here.