New and returning members of the Anglican Church of Canada-United Church of Canada Dialogue came together last month for the first meeting since the renewal of their mandate at General Synod 2016.
Gathering from Nov. 27-30 at the Queen of Apostles Renewal Centre in Mississauga, representatives from the two churches reviewed the achievements of past iterations of the dialogue—as documented in The St. Brigid Report and Called to Unity in Mission—and explored ways to move forward in the mutual recognition of ministers and ministry.
The Rev. Dr. Scott Sharman, animator for ecumenical and interfaith relations and Anglican staff support to the dialogue, said that much of the dialogue focused on how mutual recognition currently manifests itself at the grassroots level.
“Oftentimes, the way that question was being considered was as though that mutual recognition would have to happen at the level of the national churches at the same time,” Sharman said.
“Instead we’ve been thinking that perhaps the way to approach it is to start more from a bottom-up, as opposed to a top-down, way of approaching this challenge—and to begin the focus by looking at actual places where some creative steps have been taken, where there is a form of mutual recognition of ministry taking place.”
He noted that there are many instances in which members of the Anglican and United churches have made allowances for clergy to practice aspects of each other’s traditions. These examples range from Anglican-United joint parishes to chaplaincy work in hospitals, universities, and the military.
To gauge the scope and nature of this cooperation, dialogue members plan to research examples and collect stories of mutual recognition between Anglicans and United Church ministers for further reflection.
“There’s a form of mutual recognition already happening, and so what we want to try to do is say, OK, how is that being handled, what are some examples of ways where that is working, and have steps been taken in order to enable that?” Sharman said.
“Then perhaps [we can] derive some lessons from those stories that can be put forward as guidelines and best practices that could be drawn on as a resource more broadly.”
Mutual recognition of ministry is one of the two major areas that General Synod requested the dialogue to focus on in its 2016 mandate. The other major focus heading into 2019 will be a continuation of dialogue on the understanding of episkopé, or the ministry of oversight and governance, in each other’s traditions.
Dr. Sandra Beardsall, professor of church history and ecumenics at St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon and United co-chair of the dialogue, said that episkopé has been a major sticking point in previous discussions on mutual recognition of ministry.
“What’s happened in the past is we’ve never been able to get past the issue of episkopé—oversight,” Beardsall said. “We have such different models with the personal episkopé of the bishop in the Anglican Church and the conciliar episkopé of the United Church, where councils and groups make the kind of decisions that bishops make in the Anglican Church often.”
In the absence of an overarching agreement at the national level between the two churches regarding mutual recognition of ministry, members of the dialogue are looking at ways to facilitate current work without having to establish a formal agreement, such as providing shared resources across denominations.
“What is it we can already do, that we’re already doing, and how can we help people do that effectively, efficiently, and not be afraid to try it?” Beardsall said.
“We think that sometimes people assume that working across denominational lines is going to be awkward and difficult,” she added. “We want to help them see that it’s really life-giving and exciting when we share ministry in these ways that we think Jesus called us to do, to be the church in the world—not just to be Anglicans and United Church in the world, but to bring the Good News, whatever way we can, with whatever resources we have.”
After gathering material documenting present instances of mutual ministry, members of the dialogue will next meet in June 2018. Their final meeting of the triennium is expected to take place in early 2019, and will include preparations for a report to bring before the next meeting of General Synod.
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