The mutual recognition of ministers by the Anglican Church of Canada and the country’s United Church is the focus of ecumenical dialogue between the two Churches. The United Church of Canada was formed in 1925 through a merger of Canada’s Methodist and Congregational Churches, with 70 per cent of the Presbyterian Church. It was the world’s first United Church. Other denominations have since joined, and it is the second-largest denomination in Canada, after the Roman Catholic Church.
The official dialogue group between the United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada met last month for their first meeting since the mandate for discussions was renewed by the Province’s General Synod in 2016. After discussing progress and achievements by previous dialogues, as setr out in the St Brigid Report and Called to Unity in Mission, the group moved on to discuss the mutual recognition of ministers and ministry.
“Oftentimes, the way that question was being considered [at a local level] was as though that mutual recognition would have to happen at the level of the national churches at the same time,” the Revd Dr Scott Sharman, animator for ecumenical and interfaith relations and Anglican staff support to the dialogue, 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.”
Sharman 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?” he 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.
The United co-chair of the dialogue, Dr Sandra Beardsall, professor of church history and economics at St Andrew’s College in Saskatoon, 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 episcope – oversight,” she 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. 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.”
The discussions will continue ahead of the dialogue group’s next meeting in June 2018 and their final meeting of this group in early 2019. A report will be prepared for the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod.