More than three decades ago, the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada came close to a full structural merger, the result of which would have been known as the Church of Christ in Canada.
The planned organic union never came about. Yet despite some rough patches in the fallout after the talks, the two churches remain close to this day, as illustrated by the official Anglican presence at the 42nd General Council of the United Church of Canada.
The Rt. Rev. Michael Oulton, bishop of the Anglican diocese of Ontario, is serving as the official observer for the Anglican Church of Canada at the General Council, which is taking place from August 8-15 at Grenfell Campus of Memorial University in Corner Brook, Nfld.
Bishop Oulton, who is a member of the Anglican-United Church dialogue, called it an “extreme privilege” to represent the Anglican Church, thanking the United Church for the opportunity to stand with them throughout the week.
“I think what has been characterizing the relationship over the last few years has been a real energy around talking about the things that we can do cooperatively with one another,” he said.
As a member of the global ecumenical partner delegation—a group of 19 people that includes delegates from other Christian denominations as well as interfaith partners—Bishop Oulton does not vote at the plenary gatherings, but is able to contribute to and share in discussions.
During a workshop on emerging ministries in the church, the bishop spoke on new opportunities afforded by the Ecumenical Shared Ministries Handbook.
“To have ecumenical partners at General Council reminds us that we are part of a wider church,” said Gail Allan, coordinator of ecumenical, interchurch and interfaith relations for the United Church of Canada.
“We value the words they can bring us and the insights that they can bring us as they participate in the General Council.”
While Bishop Oulton is the official representative of the Anglican Church of Canada, other Anglicans on the delegation include Canon Dr. Alyson Barnett-Cowan, president of the Canadian Council of Churches, and Ms. Jennifer Henry, executive director of KAIROS Canada.
“We do the same things as Anglicans,” Barnett-Cowan said. “We invite partners, and partners always bring a different set of eyes to what’s going on … That’s really important and really valuable because we don’t, as churches, exist alone.”
“There are times when I’m sitting at the table groups and thinking ‘I could be in General Synod,’” she added. “It’s a very similar feeling.”
Structural reorganization of the United Church is a major focus of the 42nd General Council. Other items reflect common concerns shared by the Anglican Church of Canada.
Social justice issues, in particular, are a major focus for both churches. Resolutions concerning climate change and fossil fuels, care of prisoners, turmoil in Israel and Palestine, truth and reconciliation, and the need for an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women echo similar concerns among Anglicans.
Illustrating the reciprocal relationship between the churches, the United Church has asked for input on different issues from Anglican observers, who in turn asked the United Church to offer input on conversations within the Anglican Church on changes to Canon XXI that will come to the next General Synod.
“The representatives from the United Church gave a very thoughtful response to us when we asked for that ecumenical input,” Bishop Oulton said.
Looking to the future, he added, “I think there’s opportunity for us to continue to deepen that relationship and our walk together, and continue to find opportunities for greater cooperation in terms of the ministry that we provide and the communities that we are called to serve.”
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