By Richard J. Mammana
The 79th General Convention included several elements of legislation and partnership related to the Episcopal Church’s ecumenical and interreligious relations.
Invited ecumenical and interreligious guests included clergy and representatives from these groups:
- American Jewish Committee
- Anti-Defamation League
- Armenian Church of America
- Christian Churches Together
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
- Islamic Society of North America
- Moravian Church in North America
- National Council of Churches
- Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
- Religions for Peace
- The United Methodist Church
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
- World Council of Churches
These representatives offered video greetings to the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops.
Guests visited legislative hearings, exchanged questions and answers in a dedicated session with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, and participated in a triennial dinner hosted by the Rev. Margaret Rose, Presiding Bishop’s deputy for ecumenical and interreligious relations, and the Rev. Canon Chuck Robertson, canon for ministry beyond the Episcopal Church.
Full communion partners from the Moravian Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America also spoke to resolutions touching on relationships and shared public policy commitments. During the first week of General Convention, ecumenical and interreligious guests shared a daily lunch and listening session at St. David’s Church with visiting primates and general secretaries of other provinces of the Anglican Communion.
Legislative Committee 19 on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations met five times under the chairmanship of the Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton of Maryland and the Rev. Winnie Varghese of Trinity Church, Wall Street. Membership included a substantial number of participants in ecumenical dialogues and coordinating committees, as well as long-serving members of the former Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations.
Connecting ecumenical relationships with the General Convention’s stated priorities across several triennia, Resolution A012 directed “that the Office of Ecumenical Relations shall include the Stewardship of Creation as a priority item for dialogue and action in the Church’s ecumenical relationships.”
Resolution D055 created “a task force with membership appointed by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies to report annually to the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons,” with responsibility for developing responses to ecumenical and interreligious documents.
Resolution D043 resolved that “the Secretary of the General Convention send warm greetings to the Moderator of the Church of South India … and all CSI congregations within the geographical bounds of the Episcopal Church.” The Church of South India is a member church of the Anglican Communion formed in 1947 through the union of Church of England, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists. It has several dozen congregations in North America, some of which are constituent members of their local Episcopal Church dioceses. The Episcopal Church entered into a direct full communion relationship with the Church of South India at General Convention in 1976.
Two resolutions focused on the Episcopal Church’s relationships with European Lutherans. Resolution C059 urged future dialogue between the Episcopal Church and the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Bavaria (ELKB). The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe has six congregations in Germany, several of which are within the geographical boundaries of the ELKB. That church’s ecumenical officer, the Rev. Maria Stettner, expressed her hope “that we can begin to have full communion between Lutherans and Episcopalians in Bavaria.”
Resolution D085 followed the previous General Convention’s celebration of a deepening relationship with the Lutheran Church of Sweden and requested “a memorandum of understanding setting forth the terms and procedures of the full communion between the Episcopal Church and the Church of Sweden.”
“We continue to be humbled with the long and fruitful relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Church of Sweden and look forward to ways that we work together as partners in the Body of Christ,” said the Rev. Canon Elise Johnstone of the Diocese of Lexington, co-drafter of the resolution.
In other international church matters, General Convention voted in Resolution A035 to commend the World Council of Churches 2013 convergence document on ecclesiology, The Church: Toward a Common Vision, along with the Episcopal Church’s draft response to that text.
One closely watched resolution was A041 on Episcopal Church-United Methodist Dialogue. It received the 2017 full communion proposal “A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers in the Healing of Brokenness”,” and urged “all Episcopalians to utilize the many resources available to understand the substance of this dialogue and its goal of full communion.” Resources are available websites of the Episcopal Church, Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers, and umc-tec.org.
“While this resolution simply commends the work of the dialogue, it gives notice of the work that will be done over the next six years as we prepare for a full communion vote in 2021,” said the Rev. David Simmons, president of Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical Officers. “This resolution reaffirms our commitment to walk with our United Methodist brothers and sisters as we each face change in our own denominations.”
The Rev. Dr. Kyle Tau, ecumenical staff officer for faith and order and theological development for the United Methodist Council of Bishops, agreed: “In the midst of uncertainty and change, it is encouraging to gather with our ecumenical partners, to raise awareness about the progress of our dialogue, and look to future work with hope. We are grateful for this resolution commending dialogue and study across the church.”
Resolution A036 provided a triennial reaffirmation of dialogues and coordinating committees in which the Episcopal Church is engaged: dialogues with the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the full communion coordinating committees with the ELCA and the Moravian Church’s Northern Province and Southern Province.
The same resolution also “celebrates with joy and gratitude the deepening international relationship among the leaders of the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and commends the members of these churches for the work they have done together and the statements and study documents they have jointly issued.”
In a matter with implications for interreligious relations, Resolution B016 joined the Episcopal Church with a 2016 action of the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly on “Justice for the Holy Land through Responsible Investment.” This resolution directs “directs Executive Council’s Committee on Corporate Social Responsibility to develop criteria for Israel and Palestine based on a human rights investment screen and the actions of General Convention and Executive Council over the past seventy years.”
Two liturgical resolutions involved ecumenical engagement. One, a proposal to authorize the Armenian Rite for Holy Cross Day (B023), was referred to the Standing Liturgical Commission for further attention during the triennium.
Another, Resolution D078, provides alternative language for three eucharistic orders in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer; its ecumenical significance is most apparent in the omission of the Filioque clause (“and the Son”) from the text of the Nicene Creed, as agreed with Orthodox dialogue partners in 1976.
Richard J. Mammana is archivist of the Living Church Foundation, and the Episcopal Church’s associate for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations.