First ever Methodist-Episcopal dialogue meets in Atlanta

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July 30, 2002

For the first time in the more than 200-year history of both churches, representatives of the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church met July 25-26, 2002, in Atlanta, Georgia. Bishop John Lipscomb of the Diocese of Southwest Florida and Methodist bishop William B. Oden of the Dallas Episcopal Area co-chaired the meeting.

Though both the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church were founding members of the Consultation on Church Union (now Churches Uniting in Christ), the two churches have never sat down in a formal bilateral dialogue. In the early 1990s the Episcopal Church had a brief dialogue with the historically black Methodist Churches (the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church Zion, and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church).

In addition, there has been ongoing dialogue between the Church of England and the British Methodist Church. In 1972 these two churches came very close to reuniting. Most recently the Church of England approved a proposal to explore the possibility of covenanting with the British Methodist Church. In 1996, the International Anglican-Methodist dialogue produced the final statement 'Sharing in the Apostolic Communion,' submitted to the 1998 Lambeth Conference. It commended the report to Anglican provinces for further study and encouraged the development of regional dialogues between Methodists and Anglicans.

'We are delighted that this dialogue is finally off the ground,' said Dr. Thomas Ferguson, the Episcopal Church's associate deputy for ecumenical relations. 'In many ways the United Methodist Church is the church closest to Anglicanism in terms of history and liturgy.'

The sessions focused on the historical commonality between the two churches as well as the goals of the dialogue. 'Our goal is nothing less than full communion and interchangeability of ministries, for the sake of common witness and mission,' said Oden, summing up the consensus of the group.

The group heard papers by Dr. Bruce Mullin, professor of church history at the General Seminary, and Dr. Russell Richey, dean of Candler School of Theology. In his paper 'Historical Commonality,' Mullin noted that while the Methodist-Anglican dialogue was in some senses a 'family reunion,' he also noted it was a reunion between two children separated at birth, since the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church have never been in formal dialogue with one another. Despite this lack of dialogue Richey spoke on 'Shared and Diverse American Experience,' noting that the two churches are in many ways struggling with similar issues. Ferguson presented a paper on 'Our Ecumenical Foundations,' with a particular emphasis on the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as the blueprint of the Episcopal Church's ecumenical ecclesiology.

The dialogue concluded by identifying future agenda items, including examining the documents produced by the Church of England dialogue, exploring sources of authority in both churches, the possibilities of eucharistic sharing, and a discussion on the orders of ministry. The next meeting of the dialogue is scheduled for February, 2003.