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Willy Wonka discusses full communion with United Methodists

Willy Wonka discusses full communion with United Methodists

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.

Later on:

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.


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Marshall Scott

Perhaps the classism issue is contextual – both regional and age-related. When I was a young priest in a diocese in the southeastern United States, in small towns there was this joke:

“A Baptist is a member of the Church of Christ who finished high school.
A Methodist is a Baptist who got a good job.
A Presbyterian is a Methodist who got started in management.
An Episcopalian is a Presbyterian who got an executive or professional position.”

Bad joke, perhaps, but it was reflected in real experience in some sense. Classism? Economics? Sure: all too often I heard colleagues say, “One of my laymen [it was always men] is leaving our church for another in town because it’s a better place for his insurance business.” I have not doubt that it continues, and that these days it’s based on congregational size (not that it wasn’t then) more than on social rank. (I fear in shrinking towns there are other matters that affect social rank, too; but that’s for another post.)

In his post Simmons has added a link to a post by the Crusty Old Dean that he feels lays it out even more clearly (and I agree). I do agree with Simmons and COD that for purposes of ecumenical discussion we have to deal with official statements, recognizing that individual parishioners may not agree. As we’ve held for the last couple of generations or so that baptism in triune formula is all that is needed for access to Eucharist and for membership in a congregation, my guess is we have a lot of folks who are still Methodist in their heads, however liturgical they may be in their practice, and so “memorialist.” On the other hand, a past professor of worship in the Methodist seminary here in the Kansas City area was an Episcopalian until he moved to Finland, where he became Orthodox. His students certainly learned about Real Presence, however they may or may not have embraced it.

Both churches have roots to appreciate Elizabeth I’s concerns about not looking too closely into human souls. With that in mind, and with all humility, focusing on official statements is the best we can do.

Elizabeth Kaeton

Oh, please! It may be true that many Episcopalians don’t fully understand all of the implications and innuendoes of “full communion” with the UMC but choosing “classism” as the reason some Episcopalians are not open to the idea is to base an argument on low-hanging fruit. I have spoken with many UMC who are just as conflicted and confused about this proposal as Episcopalians are – and for many of the same reasons: the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist and episcopacy, as well as a concern for the gender (they prefer women and are concerned that TEC will drag them backwards on their progress) and sexual orientation (they don’t care, they just don’t want discrimination) and race (we don’t ordain anywhere near the number of Asian, Black and Hispanic as they do) of clergy.

The questions raised on either side is not the fault of inherent “classism” in Anglicanism; that is the fault of nothing other than the document itself, which is fuzzy and “fudgey” in its articulation of sacramental theology and is virtually silent on the above-named pragmatic concerns of its implementation. This blog is unintentionally, I’m sure, but inadvertently insulting to Episcopalians and Methodists.

The next phase of this process is to bring it out for wider discussion, which is happening now, thanks be to God, but needs to be brought to the folks in the pew for even deeper discussion. I’m willing to bet my grandmother’s favorite wager of “a cup of coffee at the Five and Dime” that, as this is now written, it will not pass General Convention OR General Conference – especially since the biggest enchilada on the UMC plate will be whether or not they split over human sexuality, homosexuality and reproductive choice and justice.

Meanwhile, let’s just try to love ourselves and be gentle with each other so we can love others as ourselves. Otherwise, why would anyone want to be in “full communion” with Christians who try to persuade and convince with shame, sarcasm and satire?

Paul Woodrum

Why do Methodists and Episcopalians pick the one area for unity where they have the greatest differences — Holy Orders and Sacraments? There must be other areas in which they can cooperate and share in mutual mission while they work out these differences.

Hint, I strongly suspect John and Charles Wesley would be more on the side of Episcopalians than that of American Methodists where Holy Orders and Sacraments are concerned. They did not intend to create a new faith community, but to bring down some fire and wind on the staid, complacent and established Church of England.

Alan Christensen

Maybe BECAUSE those are the areas we have the greatest differences?

David Allen

Please definitively explain the differences that you insist exist between TEC and the UMC with regard to sacraments? The UMC has 2, TEC has 2.

The UMC:
Baptism –
• Baptism marks the beginning of our lifelong journey as disciples of Jesus Christ.
• Through baptism, we are joined with the Triune God, the whole of Christ’s church, and our local congregation.
• The water and the work of the Holy Spirit in baptism convey God’s saving grace, the forgiveness of our sins, and new life in Jesus Christ.
• Persons of any age may be baptized—infants, children, youth, and adults.
• United Methodists baptize in a variety of ways—immersion, pouring, or sprinkling.
• A person receives the sacrament of baptism only once in his or her life.

The Lord’s Supper (also called Holy Communion, Eucharist) –
• The Lord’s Supper is another name for the Eucharist, the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving the church offers to God for all God has done, is doing, and will do to save us and renew all things in Christ.
• Through offering ourselves in praise and thanksgiving, and through receiving the bread and cup—which the Spirit makes for us the body and blood of Christ—celebrating the Lord’s Supper together nourishes and sustains us in our journey as disciples of Jesus Christ.
• As we pray together and receive the body and blood of Christ together, we are united with Christ, with one another, and in ministry to all the world.
• All who love Christ, earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another are invited to join us in offering our prayer of thanksgiving and receive the body and blood of Christ—regardless of age or church membership.
• Congregations serve the elements of the Lord’s Supper several ways, but always include both bread and cup.
• The Lord’s Supper is to be celebrated and received regularly—John Wesley said, “as often as [one] can.”

Baptism –
“Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 298).
In the waters of baptism we are lovingly adopted by God into God’s family, which we call the Church, and given God’s own life to share and reminded that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ.
Communion –
“We thank you … for assuring us in these holy mysteries that we are living members of the Body of your Son, and heirs of your eternal kingdom” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 366).
It goes by several names: Holy Communion, the Eucharist (which literally means “thanksgiving”), mass. But whatever it’s called, this is the family meal for Christians and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. As such, all persons who have been baptized, and are therefore part of the extended family that is the Church, are welcome to receive the bread and wine, and be in communion with God and each other.

Dustin Hendeson

This is getting into the anecdotal so maybe not very useful anymore, e.g. “my friends said this, and my friends said that,” but I grew up in the United Methodist Church and every one I ever went to hadd a totally memorialist, “leftover saltines back in the package, and grape juice back in the bottle” view of the Eucharist, down to the church. No actual Methodists I know would venture anything more than this, despite what official statements say. Moreover, most of the Eucharists in Methodist Churches I’ve attended, except ons at larger, city-center, “First Methodist”-type churches, were presided over by lay ministers. This doesn’t square with even an extremely low-church Episcopalian Eucharistic theology.

Again, perhaps this is anecdotal, but it’s a little silly to me to claim Methodists and Episcopalians share the same Eucharistic theology.

David Allen

My posted comment has nothing to do with orders. For me, the issues between the two denominations regarding orders are fully addressed in the full communion proposal document.

As to what my comment actually addressed, sacraments, these are the published official statements regarding baptism and eucharist on the UMC and the TEC websites.

I attended a UMC seminary, I know the UMC understanding of eucharist. I also have a few dozen UMC clergy among my friends and acquaintances, most all of whom responded to an email regarding their UMC understanding of the eucharist. Their responses are Anglican eucharistic theology, plain & simple. There is no more difference in the UMC & TEC understanding of eucharist, than there is among individual Anglicans/Episcopalians.

Dustin Hendeson

It is willfully disingenuous to insist that Episcopalians and Methodists have the same understanding of the Eucharist and orders. Official statements issued by committees might have similar-sounding language; however, actual practice and belief in Episcopal and Methodist parishes is widely divergent.

This article is particularly unhelpful. It’s condescending and dismissive of people’s real questions and issues. On the article’s terms, anybody who disagrees just isn’t enlightened enough to “get it.”

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