United Methodist-Episcopal dialogue addresses racism, continues ongoing reconciliation work

October 27, 2008

The United Methodist-Episcopal bilateral dialogue recently examined ways in which race and racism have functioned as church-dividing issues and worked towards drafting an agreed theological statement, summarizing areas of convergence between the two denominations.

"Historically ecumenical dialogues have focused on matters such as sacramental theology, historic episcopate, and ecclesiology," said Dr. Thomas Ferguson, the Presiding Bishop's associate for ecumenical relations and staff support for the dialogue, which met October 15-17 at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

"Given the unique aspects of the relationship between United Methodists, Episcopalians, and the historically African-American Methodist Episcopal Churches, the dialogue team felt that we needed to address broader issues," he added.

The dialogue team is looking at ways to expand these conversations to include the historically African-American Methodist Episcopal Churches (African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, and Christian Methodist Episcopal).

Presenters at the meeting included the Rev. Harold Lewis, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh. Bishop Lawrence Reddick of the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) church was unable to attend and his paper was read by Bishop Ronald Cunningham, ecumenical officer for the CME.

"The presentations and discussions at this meeting were a vivid and painful reminder of the extent to which race has been an issue for our churches, and the need we have to work carefully and in depth on this in our future meetings," said Bishop Frank Brookhart of Montana, Episcopal co-chair of the dialogue.

The second major goal at the meeting was to begin drafting an agreed theological statement, expected to be completed at the fall 2009 meeting of the United Methodist-Episcopal bilateral dialogue. Established by the General Convention in 2000, the bilateral dialogue has held regular meetings to work on a possible proposal of full communion between the two churches.

"Especially important has been the work of the International Anglican-Methodist Dialogue, which in 1996 issued a final report, "Sharing in the Apostolic Communion," and the current British Methodist-Church of England dialogue," said Ferguson.

"Our dialogues have built on the tremendous momentum garnered from both the Anglican-British Methodist covenant process and the international work of the Anglican Communion with the World Methodist Council," said Dr. Douglas Mills, staff executive in the United Methodist ecumenical office. "For example, a meeting of the dialogue team with leadership of the British dialogues provided great insights and helpful directions as we move toward reconciliation and full Eucharistic fellowship."

Interim Eucharistic Sharing was established by the 2006 General Convention, and there have been numerous regional, diocesan, and local celebrations of this new relationship. The dialogue team attended a celebration of the Eucharist in the Perkins School of Theology Chapel. The Very Rev. Kevin Martin, dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Matthew, and the Rev. Paul Escamalla, associate director of public affairs for Perkins School of Theology, presided.

Further information about the dialogue, including a download of the congregational study guide "Make Us One in Christ," is available here.

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