This is an interim report on the ongoing work of the ACC-UCC Dialogue. Amidst challenge, laughter, pain, and deep sharing we have journeyed faithfully together. This report represents a brief summary of our understandings of our context, some of our discussions and findings, and recommendations.
It is offered in prayer and respect.
Section A: The Context of this Dialogue
1. Histories Shaping our Dialogue
Our religious and spiritual journeys, as people of faith, can never be separated from our political, social, and economic context either in the past or present. The United Church of Canada and The Anglican Church of Canada share many things in common due to our roots in the British Empire. The British ancestors brought with them the baggage of a common patriarchal, dominant culture and significant divisions in theology and church polity, which both helped and hindered the sense of the mission of the church in a new land. Thus, our journeys on this continent as mission churches have often been difficult. One crucial result of the Euro-centric churches’ zeal in the proclaiming of the gospel to all nations was to blind the immigrants to seeing the presence of God amongst First Nations people when these two cultures encountered each other. The understanding of First Nations people that all people, rooted in a shared community, have a relationship with all of creation, was overshadowed by the understanding of an individual relationship with God alone and not God’s creation. Residential schools operated by churches and government were both a symptom and a tool of that colonial oppression and mindset. It is imperative for the churches to let the transforming power of the Spirit cleanse and heal the wounds and brokenness that have been inflicted upon all, so that the gospel that has been proclaimed, albeit imperfectly, might also be the gospel that is lived.
Our shared history as churches also includes contributions to shaping the Canadian social fabric. Churches gave leadership in establishing systems and institutions for education and health care. Energized by the social gospel vision of “a kingdom of justice on earth,” Canadian churches joined in the Social Service Council of Canada (1907–1939), the Canadian Council of Churches (established in 1944), and other ecumenical initiatives, to work for economic justice. These efforts have included advocating for the rights of labour, national pensions, medicare, family allowance, and other aspects of the Canadian social safety net. As well, the ACC and UCC have participated significantly in global Christian mission and witness, including in the establishment of the World Council of Churches.
2. ACC-UCC Dialogue History
The ACC and UCC began conversations in the 1940s, and by the early 1970s, were seriously working toward an organic union. This organic union was formally proposed in The Plan of Union (1972). From 1974 until 1983, conversations continued, leading to the Report of the Task Force on the Mutual Recognition of Ordained Ministry (United/Anglican), which was received but never acted upon by the two communities. That path was not chosen, causing a great disappointment for many. This previous work continues to be instructive for the present Dialogue. The present Dialogue, which began in February 2003, began as a result of conversations between the ecumenical officers of our churches in 1999. In 2002, the Dialogue was approved by the appropriate bodies of the UCC and the ACC.
International and regional ecumenical dialogues have brought us to quite a different place from where we were in the early 1970s. The WCC, in 1982, published the important document, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. BEM has identified a foundation that our churches can work from; agreement on baptism and welcome at the table. These are things we can build upon. One advantage that our churches have is that agreement on Anglican, Reformed, and Methodist international dialogues have forged new commitments and possibilities for conversation in our own churches. The model of “full communion,” as agreed to by the ACC and the ELCIC, has provided ecumenical dialogues with viable alternatives to organic union. Partnerships with other Canadian churches, including shared ministries, military chaplaincies, and KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives also shape our ecumenical commitments and understandings. We want to strengthen these commitments and understandings.
Significant changes have also taken place within our churches. Breaking the silence about residential school abuse, and the first steps in repentance, have taken place. The All Native Circle Conference of the UCC has been formed, and the Anglican Indigenous Covenant has been affirmed and is moving toward implementation. The ACC began ordaining women in 1976. For various reasons, cooperation in theological education has taken place. Diversities of views, both theologically and socially, have continued to arise in our churches, even as we struggle to learn how to include the diversity of voices speaking out. Our faith has been challenged and enriched by an explosion of theologies that address our context from different perspectives. A deepening awareness of the richness of liturgical practices and some changes in worship have taken place. The growth and diversity of religions and personal spirituality, away from institutional connections for people, have posed new challenges. We live in a society that increasingly presents itself as secular, while at the same time welcomes people from many and varied vibrant faith communities into our common life. There has also been a rising influence and awareness of religious fundamentalism in various faith traditions.
3. Social Context
The social context in which we live has also changed in the past thirty years. Issues of human sexuality, sexual orientation, ordination, and marriage have emerged, challenging the churches to examine themselves and their self-understandings. The growing gap between the rich and poor, both within nations and among nations, calls for justice and redress. As Canadians, we have failed to address the issues of homelessness and child poverty. The social safety net for which the Canadian churches worked diligently is being undermined. Withdrawal from commitment to the world is sometimes regarded as a viable alternative to mutual responsibility and interdependence. The world has been confronted with the explosion of AIDS and varieties of “super viruses.” Political realities have also shifted. The cold war has ended, but recent wars and a different expression of militarism are dominating the planet. Ecological pressures and globalization have come to the forefront of our consciences. The technology we are accustomed to today was not even created when the Plan of Union was written in 1973.
4. Role of the Dialogue Group
The task assigned to the Dialogue was to explore themes that will enable members of the two churches to understand each other better; to encourage and strengthen shared ministry and mission, particularly at the local level, and to foster other circles of dialogue, regionally and locally, between the two churches.
The present members of the Dialogue recognize that we do not represent the diversity of our churches; for example, missing or underrepresented are: First Nations, out gay or lesbian people, youth, and laity.
Section B: The Progress of the Dialogue
The ACC-UCC Dialogue has met six times between February 2003 and September 2005. The work that we have done to date is largely exploratory. We have reviewed our common history, with particular attention to events surrounding the Plan of Union. We have examined statements of agreement from ecumenical dialogues worldwide. We have explored various models of ecumenical theological education in places where Anglican Church and United Church people teach and study together. We have discussed practical governance issues regarding shared ministries, and are endeavouring to communicate learnings from shared ministries more widely across the church.
1. Revisiting our History
We acknowledge the pain caused by the failure of attempts at organic union that were manifested in the Plan of Union. We recognize especially the hurt felt by many in the UCC as a result of the perceived rejection by the ACC. We also acknowledge the various initiatives that were birthed in this era such as: the development of The Hymn Book; the Canadian Church Calendar; and a variety of shared ministries, including the development of joint ventures in theological education. This era also saw the affirmation of mutual recognition of baptism among a number of Canadian churches, and a change in Anglican practice inviting all baptized Christians to the table (a policy already in effect in the United Church).
2. Common Mission
From the review of our common history has come recognition of the centrality of unity-in-mission to the life of the Christian Church and, therefore, the ecumenical endeavour. We have found this to be especially exciting because of our existing common commitment to, and work on, mission. This is reflected in joint efforts such as chaplaincies, institutions of theological education, social justice ministries (KAIROS, CCC Justice and Peace Commission, and many local initiatives), and shared ministries.
The ACC and UCC have a long history of working together on mission-related tasks. Our mutual commitment to Christian mission reflects a commonality in theology. Our respective understandings of the Reign of God are similar, as are the issues that we face in our ecclesial communities. We listen to each other and employ one another’s resources on complex issues with social and political dimensions.
3. Initial Exploration of Ecclesiology
The Dialogue has begun an investigation into issues of ecclesiology and sacramental theology and practice, where we are discovering both differences and common threads. For example, in relation to the ministry of oversight (episkope), we have noted a range of views and practices in both denominations.
The Dialogue discussed a number of ecumenical agreed statements, including the following: God’s Reign and Our Unity — Anglican Reformed International Commission (1984); Churches Together in Britain and Ireland; Scottish Church Initiative for Union; Church Unity Commission (South Africa); Churches Uniting in Christ (USA); Roman Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999); Lutheran-Reformed Dialogue (USA). We uncovered a number of strategies in these statements, which we believe could prove fruitful for relations between the ACC and the UCC. We also have benefited from the experience of the establishment of the Churches of North India, South India, and Pakistan.
These ecumenical agreed statements and experiences are a major source of our emphasis on unity-in-mission. Other ideas we have found helpful include: 1) “differentiated consensus” and 2) “penultimate” theological statements, from the Lutheran-Reformed Dialogue, and 3) “unity in coordinated diversity,” from the Scottish Church Initiative for Union.
4. Theological Education
The degree to which we are able to do theological education together is a further demonstration of the extent of our common life. UCC and ACC people teach and study together, learning from one another. This is an important aid to mutual understanding and common mission.
ACC and UCC faculties work together in a variety of different ways. Perhaps the most tightly integrated model is that followed by Atlantic School of Theology (AST) and Vancouver School of Theology (VST), where students follow a common curriculum with denominational components. Probably the least integrated model is that followed by the Toronto School of Theology (TST), where students function largely within their own denominational seminaries but are able to cross-register for courses at other institutions. The Saskatoon Theological Union, University of Winnipeg Consortium, and the Montreal School of Theology exist at different places on a continuum between the AST/VST model at one end, and the TST model at the other end. All of these models have strengths and weaknesses; the variety is beneficial to the church.
The seminaries are to be applauded for their commitment to working together. They have demonstrated a strong awareness of the need for mutual understanding and common work for the Reign of God. Many courses have students working with faculty of other denominations. In a number of places, solid efforts have been made to have faculty of different denominations in the classroom together.
The Dialogue recognizes the need for theological faculties to do more to prepare students to live and work in an ecumenical environment. Students need more opportunities to develop an awareness of their own denominational perspectives in relation to perspectives rooted in other Christian heritages. This need is particularly urgent for those who will serve in shared ministry contexts. Shared ministry situations demand a strong awareness of denominational histories, languages, and meanings; preparation in these things must begin at seminary.
5. Shared Ministries
Shared or collaborative ministries have become for various reasons a more common option in Canada in the last thirty years. It may be a commitment to an ecumenical model of ministry, declining membership and resources, or geographical isolation that is the impetus for establishing a shared ministry. The Dialogue used the Shared Ministry Resource Kit prepared by participants in shared ministries as the basis for a new Shared Ministries Handbook. In exploring various models of shared ministry we have discovered a wide range of approaches to worshipping, living and working together in faith. In our meeting with members of shared ministry communities and through the participation of several members of the Dialogue in the Collaborative Ministries Conference, we have seen that many communities are able to establish a common identity while still maintaining denominational connections and denominational identities. There are different means of achieving that diversity in unity as illustrated in the Shared Ministries Handbook.
What has surfaced in our consideration of both theological faculties and shared ministries is the difficulty caused by the inability to recognize fully and completely the ministries of those who serve in them. For example, where liturgical forms are restricted according to the denomination of the ordained minister, members of that denomination in that congregation are deprived of those liturgies. As “the very celebration of the eucharist is an instance of the Church’s participation in God’s mission to the world” (Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, 15), an impairment of the eucharistic practices of these shared ministries is a serious matter. Shared ministries have brought the issue of mutual recognition of ministries to a focus for us, but it is a question that is not merely a pragmatic one; these ministries merely demonstrate concretely what is at stake in living out our faith as communities of God’s people.
This Dialogue has begun to explore the ACC – UCC history and relationship. In the midst of this exploration we have recognized failures and successes in our denominational attempts to flourish in faith. As we meet, we are uncovering, and more clearly defining, our self-identities and passions. Ecumenical statements of agreement from various parts of the world witness to the many creative possibilities of Christians collaboratively sharing the gospel. Discussions with theological educators revealed that there are and may be future possibilities to aiding mutual understanding. In shared ministries we witness these mutual understandings lived out in communities of faith.
Section C: Where Are We Going?
Recommendation 1: Continuation of the Dialogue
Because we have learned from one another and have come to believe that there are possibilities for collaboration and further developments in our relationship, we recommend that The United Church of Canada and The Anglican Church of Canada authorize the continuation of this Dialogue. The mandate for the next stage would be:
- To continue to pursue an understanding of one another and the contribution that each of our churches makes to the work of Christ in Canada
- To ensure that the Dialogue is enlivened by the vision and values of the Anglican Indigenous Covenant and the United Church Aboriginal Justice and Right Relationship Process; to give increased attention to the effects of colonization on First Nations peoples and the wider church, and the changes that the churches need to make in light of that history
- To continue to address our theological similarities and differences and their significance for our relationship
- To explore the possibilities for resolving outstanding issues relating to the sacraments and ministries
- To continue work on a study guide and process for our churches (see Recommendation 2).
Recommendation 2: Study Guide and Process
Because the Dialogue has encountered a remarkable degree of growth in understanding, and wants to be accountable to the churches and include them in this process, we recommend that the Dialogue continue work on a study guide and process for our churches. Among the aims of the study guide would be:
- To share with the churches what the Dialogue has discovered about one another and the possibilities for future developments in our relationship
- To seek response from the churches to these discoveries and possibilities
- To raise awareness in our churches of colonialism and its consequences
- To enable neighbouring Anglican and United Church congregations to explore their mutual understandings and differences, and possibilities for common mission.
Recommendation 3: Shared Ministries Joint Task Group
Because we have learned through our experience of shared/collaborative (ecumenical) ministries, we recommend that our churches establish a joint task group, in collaboration with other churches (see recommendation #4), to address the concerns of these ministries.
Issues for the shared ministries task group might include:
- Different understandings of the ordained ministry
- Inconsistency of policy and its application across the country — e.g., licensing, presiding at the sacraments, voting in governing bodies
- Finance and remuneration
- Conflict resolution
- Training for leadership
- Enhanced attention to shared ministries in theological education
- Connectedness to the wider church
The task group would be funded by each of the churches and report to each of them, but could make recommendations of issues to be further discussed by the Anglican-United Church Dialogue.
One resource for the task group is the Shared Ministries Handbook.
Recommendation 4: Wider Participation
Because we have benefited greatly from the presence of a Lutheran partner/observer to the Dialogue, we recommend that
- the Dialogue continue to have a partner/observer from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
- the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Presbyterian Church in Canada be invited to join the joint task group to address shared ministry issues.
Recommendation 5: Theological Education
Because theological faculties prepare students to live and work in an ecumenical environment and have demonstrated a strong awareness of the need for mutual understanding and common work for the Reign of God, we call on the ACC and UCC to make solid financial commitments to professional theological faculties, so that the work of ecumenical theological education may continue and expand.
We challenge theological faculties to teach North American Indigenous theologies and to be more welcoming places for First Nations people as students and faculty.
We challenge theological faculties to do more to prepare students to live and work in an ecumenical environment, to provide students with more opportunities to develop an awareness of their own denominational perspectives in relation to perspectives rooted in other Christian heritages, and to equip those who will serve in shared ministry contexts with a strong awareness of denominational histories, languages, and meanings.