Friday, April 20, 2012

Pan-Methodist Full Communion

The United Methodist News Service has reported that this year's General Conference of the United Methodist Church will vote to enter into "Full Communion" with the other Methodist churches who have linked themselves in the "Pan-Methodist Commission".  The United Methodist Church will be the last of these denominations to vote on this measure.  It is fully expected to pass.

All but two of the denominations in the group, the African Union Methodist Protestant Church and the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church, are member denominations of the World Methodist Council.  The UAMEC joined the Pan-Methodist Commission in 2004, and the AUMPC joined in 2007.  The other denominations were involved in the Commission since its birth in 1985.  In addition to the United Methodist Church, the other partners are the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

The other three American based World Methodist Council member denominations (viz., the Church of the Nazarene, the Free Methodist Church and The Wesleyan Church) are not a part of the Pan-Methodist Commission and are not connected to this Full Communion vote.  (The Free Methodist Church did participate with the other Pan-Methodist churches in 1984 for the "Methodist Bicentennial."  They produced, among other things, a resource book for celebrating the bicentennial.  However, beyond that, it is unclear as to what connection the Free Methodists may have had with the Pan-Methodist churches in the past.  It is clear that they are not currently a part of this group.)

One thing that is interesting about this vote, aside from the two non-World Methodist Council participants, is that "Full Communion" language is really foreign to native Methodist language.  That is, prior to the involvement with the ecumenical movement, and especially the Full Communion agreements with the Lutherans (ELCA) and the pursuit of an agreement with the Episcopal Church, Methodists really didn't talk about it.  Even the news article reports that this agreement is really a codification of what already takes place.  Consider the following:

Methodists have had no problem communing those who come to the Table from whatever denomination, nor would they have a problem participating in the sacrament as offered by other denominations.  This is especially true (but not exclusively so) of other Wesleyan/Methodist denominations.  -  It seemed quite clear, for example, when attending the World Methodist Conference and other World Methodist events where the Eucharist was shared, that we were all acting in such a way that would be consistent with what is ecumenically termed "Full Communion."

Methodists do not, generally, re-ordain clergy who transfer in.  This is assuming that there are similar understandings of orders.  -  That is to say, if one is ordained for a certain region of a certain denomination, and it is the case that other regions of the same denomination may require re-ordination (e.g., in most Baptist traditions), then re-ordination may take place.  This is because the orders were never intended to be universal orders.  In the Methodist tradition we are ordained under the authority of a General Superintendent/Bishop, representing the whole Church, and we are ordained as elders (presbyters) in "the Church of God" according to our particular denomination.  -  The real question for transfers of clergy from other Methodist/Wesleyan denominations is not so much the validity of orders, but the standards of preparation prior to allowing them to minister within the particular denomination.

I will use myself as an example.  I am an elder in the Church of the Nazarene.  I am currently serving as the pastor of a United Methodist church.  I am considered by the conference, according to the Book of Discipline, as "other Methodist."  If I were to transfer my orders, the Discipline provides that I could do so and be received as an elder in full connection within a United Methodist Conference after only taking the course on the polity (i.e., the Book of Discipline) of the UMC.  (Now this may vary, somewhat from conference to conference, but this does reflect the provisions of the Discipline.  It is also the case that it could be a vastly different situation for other "Methodists" whose educational background differs.)  -  The validity of my orders would not be in question, and the possible ease with which I could transfer (depending on the conference!) seems every bit as easy (perhaps more so) as ELCA clergy who are in Full Communion with the UMC.

Consider also, though it does not relate to these particular denominations, talk of "Full Communion" has never come up among the Wesleyan-Holiness denominations that were members of the Christian Holiness Partnership or those that are a part of the newly forming Global Wesleyan Alliance (though, in the latter, there is new talk about how clergy might be accepted from one denomination to another).  Such language was not used among World Methodist Council members, either.  -  It really is a "foreign language" that Methodists are now learning to speak.

However, once the UMC, for example, entered into "Full Communion" with the ELCA and has explored such with TEC, it was pointed out (perhaps with a bit of embarrassment?) that technically they were not in Full Communion with the AME, AMEZ or CME (or the other two Pan-Methodist denominations . . . or any of the other non-UM World Methodist Council churches).  Thus, the need to reach a "Full Communion" agreement with those who have always been the closest of family.

In any case, the Pan-Methodist churches are rightly gearing up for a celebration at the UM General Conference on May 1!  -  The full UMNS article can be read, here.


Todd Stepp said...

As expected, the vote passed! The UMC is not officially in full communion with the other Pan-Methodist churches.

cspogue said...

I really wonder if this is a case of the GCCUIC finding work for itself since there aren't any likely merger/union/etc. candidate denominations out there. Otherwise, it might occur to many that most practical ecumenical work is going to be done at the local church level.