When we meet as Anglican and United Churches, we know we have inherited a long history of dialogue. We meet, too, in the shadow of failed attempts, notably in 1967-75, to accomplish the organic union of our two churches in Canada. This history may make it difficult at first for us to appreciate the unity that we already share. The relationship of our two churches has continued to unfold since 1975. Across Canada, nearly all our leadership formation, both clergy and lay, now takes place in schools where Anglican and United Church people study, pray, and celebrate together, in some instances in virtually all aspects of their program. Both churches now ordain women, and in both our churches women are integral to all forms of ministry.

Conversations today take place within a wider ecumenical context. Both churches are active and respected members of the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC). Throughout the world dialogues are taking place that wrestle, as we do, with the particular inherited issues that have impeded the road to greater unity. The sharing of insights gained in these has helpfully enriched our conversations. It is apparent that dimensions of the understanding and practice of ordered ministry remain problematic between us. But we note our shared participation and general accord on the WCC Faith and Order statements on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1982), and that these statements now have a central place in the theological formation of all our future clergy. Both of us, then, have benefited from wider ecumenical dialogues, and their insights and explorations are suggestive of new avenues for our Canadian experience.

The formal resumption of our dialogue in 2003 came with a significant new dimension. In 2001, The Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) entered into full communion, and this new model of ecumenical relationship has stimulated and encouraged the renewal of this dialogue. Our churches wisely chose to request the appointment of a Lutheran observer to these talks. The Rev. Dr. Gordon Jensen, of Lutheran Theological Seminary (Saskatoon), has been an invaluable participant; his concluding theological reflections at each meeting have helped to name evasions, identify blind spots, and stimulate us to seek greater clarity and precision in our mutual understandings.

Recent decades — even in the absence of formal dialogue — have seen significant development in our relationship. We have continued and broadened our longstanding and healthy partnership with other Canadian churches in various chaplaincies, in universities, hospitals, prisons, and notably in the Canadian Forces. After years of working together in social justice coalitions, our two churches have made full commitment and taken leadership in the remarkable development of KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, the common engagement in the mission of God in our nation and the world. At the congregational level, there are extraordinary stories of the various forms, each unique, taken in Ecumenical Shared Ministries. We observe, with gratitude, convergences as well as parallels in our worship lives: in particular, in the shared development of Christian education, liturgical and lectionary resources, and we note the growing centrality of table fellowship in the worship experienced in the United Church. Today, too, both churches affirm the essential role of episcopal leadership in our communal life, while recognizing that this may be effected differently, both in individuals and in corporate structures. Finally, the notion of affirming a consensus in the essentials of faith and practicethat does not require uniformity in all details of our life, and the sense of living with acceptable differences suggest helpful roads to pursue together in our quest for the greater unity of Christ’s Body.

Our Dialogue has been blessed by the presence of Indigenous members. Together we have also agonized over our mutual responsibility for the tragic history of the residential schools established for Indigenous students, that we administered for the Canadian government. Each of us continues to struggle with the ongoing negative consequences of Christian colonialism. The Indigenous peoples of Canada were its first victims, but all of us need to walk together the road of healing from our broken past, in the common journey toward spiritual wholeness.

In our six years of conversations, we have been agreeably surprised at the breadth and depth of our common life. In our own conversations, too, we have concluded that for us both, the mission of God in the world is the key to our common lives. We also recognize that God’s grace is at work and effective in both our traditions. Historically, in both our churches our identity has been strongly formed by a sense of call to mission to the entire nation. To that mission we bring today a variety of gifts and graces that the apostle Paul would recognize (Romans 12). Anglican historic rootedness in the worldwide Anglican Communion offers a catholicity of perspective that can help liberate from nationalist chauvinism. The forging of the United Church in the era of Canadian nation building offers a vigorous contextuality and pragmatism that can help focus our service to God’s mission in the world in the particularities of this culture. When old resentments are replaced by respect and gratitude for the complementarity of these gifts, the door is open for becoming partners in advancing into God’s future, together seeking those things that bring “mutual up-building.”

It is in this spirit that we present this progress report from our Dialogue.

Sharing Our Unity: Ecumenical Shared Ministries

Is your parish church feeling empty?? Are you without clergy?? Has your budget stretched beyond your means?? Well, WE may have an ecumenical solution for you!

Ecumenical Shared Ministries often have proven?to be positive?answers for these three questions.  All across Canada, in numerous communities, congregations have found a way to be truly ecumenical?through shared ministry. Many of these parishes have shared?in some?way for 30, 40 or more years. There are hundreds of shared ministries in Canada with a variety of patterns, each with a unique experience: one minister, two congregations; two congregations, one building; several denominations, one service; one service, several buildings – there are so many ways in which people are sharing in God’s service! In times of change, congregations look to those around them for support. Sometimes they find companions – other people facing similar challenges – and in some of those cases they find the potential for a new relationship.

St. Peter’s Ecumenical Church in Slave Lake, Alberta, is a wonderful example of Anglican, Lutheran, United, and other folk worshipping together each Sunday. From the origins of a few people from each of these three denominations a thriving congregation has?developed, recently celebrating its?30th anniversary of shared ministry. One clergy, one church building, and rotating denominational services have been the ecumenical route these Christians have taken. They have learned to celebrate their sameness and appreciate their differences, learning to see the face of God in each other.

A legacy of unity

For the Riverside Churches of Ottawa, Inc., shared ministry is nothing new; it’s a way of life. The Riverside United Church and the Anglican Church of the Resurrection share one worship space, which they built together in 1969. Non-profit incorporation helped to answer questions arising from the joint effort of two very different denominational polities. The fruitfulness of cooperative living is expressed in shared summer and other services, a common Vacation Bible School, as well as joint outreach projects such as AIDS vigils and Amnesty International write-a-thons.

Great! And how’s that going?

Over the course of their shared ministry, the Riverside Churches have found their arrangement at times both challenging and rewarding. Coordinating the use of spaces, operating two congregational offices in one, and remaining simultaneously consistent and flexible requires dedication and patience. The balance of distinct and shared identities has to remain fluid. Yet the people of the Riverside Churches will soon be celebrating 40 years of facing these challenges together and it’s an anniversary they anticipate with joy.

A recent witness

With a long and vibrant history in Ottawa, First United found that its reputation as a welcoming and healing presence within the city was being challenged by the financial responsibilities of its building. At the same time, the congregation of All Saints’ Anglican Westboro was looking for new ways to utilize its church’s spaces and to continue its own outreach. After discussions and opportunities to meet together, in 2007 All Saints’ invited First United to consider the church building at All Saints’ their new home.

How do you welcome 100 people into your home?

Having prayed and worshipped together in their sanctuary for the last time, the congregation of First United set out in the direction of their new home in Westboro. However, they didn’t have to walk alone. The members of All Saints’ met them part way on their journey, placed red scarves around the necks of their new partners in shared ministry, and walked back to Westboro with them, welcoming them to their home.

These are just three ways that Anglican and United Church people are sharing their ministries. What continues to inspire our Dialogue are the many other ways in which people of both denominations continue to find ways of turning times of great challenge into opportunities for discerning a new way forward. When we are bold enough to ask openly what might build God’s community, we are already cutting new ground.

There are many diverse and workable ways shared ministry can be established. You may want to develop or even just investigate a different version of shared ministry. An Ecumenical Shared Ministries Handbook has been developed to help you decide and use as a valuable resource. You may access this information by contacting your national church office or visit www.anglican.ca or www.united-church.ca.

“How do we understand unity and diversity?  Connected with that are two other questions:  first, how do we decide what is ‘helpful’ diversity and ‘harmful’ diversity (and who decides this!)?  Second, in our world today, what kind of unity among the churches is going to make a difference to people who don’t have either the time or interest in many of the things you most strongly feel to be a part of your histories and identities?”