The Anglican Church of Canada and United Church of Canada ought to work more closely together in the here-and-now despite their outstanding theological differences, a recent report by an ecumenical panel of the two churches recommends.
“Acknowledging our fundamental agreement in a common faith, our churches must engage more deeply in common mission,” concludes Called to Unity in Mission, the report of the Anglican Church of Canada-United Church of Canada Dialogue, released this fall.
To achieve this goal, the dialogue recommends the creation of a national co-ordinating committee for looking at possible new ways of collaboration between the two churches, and potentially other churches as well.
It also recommends that the churches continue to work together on reconciliation, particularly with Indigenous peoples; invite each other’s members to take part in their committees; and share physical and human resources at the local, regional and national levels—including pursuing the idea of a common national office.
The report also clarifies that actual union is no longer a goal of the dialogue, however.
To a great extent, the shape of future collaboration between the two churches remains to be worked out by the co-ordinating committee, says Bruce Myers, co-adjutor bishop of the diocese of Quebec and, as former co-ordinator of ecumenical relations for the Anglican Church of Canada, a member of the dialogue. But the possibilities are many, he says, and exist at all levels—local, regional and national. Already, says Myers, the national offices of both churches share some staff, in areas such as resources for mission, philanthropy and human resources.
The report summarized the work of the latest round of dialogue between the Anglican and United churches, which lasted from 2012 to 2016. The previous round, which ran from 2003 to 2009, was the first since negotiations toward the formal union of the two churches collapsed in 1975.
The first was essentially a “getting to know each other again” round, Myers says. With the second round, there was some hope that the dialogue would make progress on theological differences between the two churches—around their different understandings of the sacraments, the ordering of ministry and the concept of episkopé, or oversight, for example. In parishes where there are ecumenical shared ministries between the two churches, differences on areas such as these result in limits to what United Church ministers can do in terms of administering sacraments to Anglicans, Myers says.
While some progress was made in these areas, the dialogue recognizes that work still needs to be done, he says. But dialogue members also realized that this shouldn’t keep the two churches from working together.
“It’s really about getting to the nitty-gritty, practical expressions of ecumenism,” says Myers. “That’s not to devalue the theological ecumenism that needs to continue to happen so that we can achieve the full visible unity to which we’re called, and which is a gospel imperative. But in the meantime, we need to be giving more visible expression, here and now, to the unity that we already acknowledge that we share—at every level of the church.”
In addition to its recommendations on collaboration, the report calls for more theological work between the two churches. It recommends the two churches continue to strive for mutual recognition of ministry, including discussions of episkopé and renewing the Ecumenical Shared Ministries Task Force.
Differences on the ordering of ministry can have unfortunate, on-the-ground effects for parishioners of both churches—effects that further theological dialogue might be able to prevent, Archdeacon Lynne McNaughton, an Anglican member of the dialogue, said in a news release from the national office.
“I think it’s a tragedy that in some small communities across Canada, there’s a United Church with a half-time minister and an Anglican church with a half-time minister, and as numbers diminish, both churches close,” she said. “Both churches want to offer the gospel, the Word and sacraments to nourish those communities. And sometimes we can do it together.”
One unusual feature of this latest round is that, while it was happening, the United Church was going through its own re-evaluation of how it orders its ministries. It currently has three orders of ministry, which have evolved for various reasons over the years, says United Church co-chair the Rev. Andrew O’Neill. But the church is now considering moving to a single order.
The United Church’s decision on whether or not to adopt a single order of ministry “will have a significant impact on whether and to what extent continued discussion concerning the mutual recognition of ministry, and therefore the orderly exchange of ministers with other denominations, might continue,” O’Neill says. A move to a single order, he says, will result in a much less complex system, and one in which the training and oversight of ministers would more closely resemble those of clergy in other denominations, including the Anglican Church of Canada.
The United Church is expected to decide on the matter this June.
The unpredictability of the outcome of the United Church’s debate on this issue, Myers says, made the dialogue more challenging. But it also presented an opportunity, in that the dialogue was invited to respond to the single ministry idea. In its response, attached to Called to Unity in Mission, the dialogue encourages the United Church to move toward a single order of ordained ministers, partly on the ground that it would help solve some of the problems now encountered in ecumenical shared ministries.
O’Neill says that, despite the outstanding differences between the two churches, he feels hopeful about the future of the Anglican-United Church dialogue.
“Overall, I think we have achieved much greater clarity concerning what we already share in common, and where we need to keep talking,” he says. “This is well beyond where we were as denominations when the first phase of the dialogue began.”Back to Top
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.
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