Introduction on United Methodist Ecumenism

Written by Danyal Mohammadzadeh

The ideas of tolerance that have been risen since 19th century gave birth to ecumenism in the modern world.1 However, “Ecumenical Relationships” is a new chapter that has been added recently to the 2012 Book of Discipline. In the current quadrennium, United Methodist ecumenism has been highlighted by major activities in two levels: The Council of Bishops and United Methodist local churches. First, the 2008 General Conference assigned the Council of Bishops to work on behalf of The United Methodist Church on ecumenical relations and then, the 2012 General Conference assigned the Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships to assist the Council of Bishops.

Ecumenism connects The United Methodist Church to the whole Christian Church. The task of ecumenism is about promoting Christian unity locally and worldwide. Hence, interdenominational organizations cooperate to achieve Christian unity in different levels. However, unity does not mean uniformity in this case.2 United Methodist ecumenism celebrates Christian unity and diversity at the same time as gifts to be received and expressed.3 “A relationship of full communion does not mean there are no differences or distinctions between the churches but does mean that these differences are not church dividing.”4 According to the ¶ 105 of the 2012 Book of Discipline, ecumenical commitment belongs to the doctrinal standards and The United Methodist theological task.5 United Methodist ecumenism is based on the theological assertion that God’s love is unconditional and overflowing.6

Ecumenism is a part of United Methodist DNA. United Methodists commit themselves to be in ministry with all people regardless of their language, culture, and social or economic status, according to the ¶ 125 of the 2012 Book of Discipline.7 The ¶ 125 presents three core values, which are greater alignment of the connection for the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ; deeper connections throughout the church; and more equitable sharing of the God’s given gifts.8 Also, The United Methodist Church “seek and work for unity at all levels of church life through world relationships with other Methodist churches and united churches related to The United Methodist Church or The Evangelical United Brethren Church, through councils of churches, and through plans of union and covenantal relationships with churches of Methodist or other denominational traditions,” according to the ¶ 6 of the 2012 Book of Discipline.9

The Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships of the Council of Bishops was created as one of the ecumenical fruits of the 2012 General Conference to assist the Council of Bishops in response to assigned tasks related to the church’s ecumenical ministries.10 First, the 2008 General Conference assigned the Council of Bishops to work on behalf of The United Methodist Church on ecumenical relations and then, the 2012 General Conference assigned OCUIR to assist the Council of Bishops. OCUIR focuses on three realms: leadership, education, and formation.11 The main focus of the office has been on the education through publishing books and providing scholarships to seminary students for studying ecumenism.

bp_swensonTo avoid of any violation from United Methodism, the Council of Bishops is the “primary liaison”12 in formal ecumenical relations with other churches, according to the ¶ 431 of the 2012 Book of Discipline.13 OCUIR is supervised by an ecumenical officer of the Council of Bishops. Currently, Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, as ecumenical officer of the Council of Bishops, is responsible for ecumenical relationships. The legislation ¶ 431 has been added to the Book of Discipline as result of two petitions in two recent General Conference: 2008 and 2012.

Recently, OCUIR has operated a new program which is United Methodist Ecumenical and Interreligious Training. The UMEIT is an ecumenical training ministry that is composed of laity and clergy of the UMC who are passionate about the work of ecumenical and interreligious ministry.14 The training was held from the 18th to the 21th of the April the in the Galt House hotel, Louisville, KY. In the First day, the ecumenical bible study led by Dr. Brockwell and then Rev. Morgan presented Ecumenism 101 to clarify ecumenism from the UM perspective. NWCU Eucharist operated by Lutheran and Catholic clergies was one of the most significant spiritual events that spread the spirit of unity among the leaders of various denominations in the workshop. UMEIT seminar panel on excellent ministries in Louisville was one of the practical seminars that has helped me to write an ecumenical agenda for my local church. Finally, Dr. Pearson’s speech on Thomas Merton’s life was informative and moving on establishing the ministry of mercy.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)

 

1The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 2012 (Nashville, Tenn.: United Methodist Pub. House, 2012), 21-22.
2Dai Morgan, United Methodist Ecumenism 101, (The Council of Bishops Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships, 2016,) 12.
3The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 2012 (Nashville, Tenn.: United Methodist Pub. House, 2012), 88.
4Ibid, 342.
5Ibid, 88.
6Daily Christian Advocate, Vol 1, (The United Methodist Publishing House, 2016,) 466.
7The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 2012 (Nashville, Tenn.: United Methodist Pub. House, 2012), 93.
8Daily Christian Advocate, Vol 1, (The United Methodist Publishing House, 2016,) 466.
9The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 2012 (Nashville, Tenn.: United Methodist Pub. House, 2012), 25.
10The Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships of the Council of Bishops Executive Summary Report to the 2016 General Conference, in Daily Christian Advocate, Vol 1, (The United Methodist Publishing House, 2016,) 927.
11Ibid, 928.
12The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, 2012 (Nashville, Tenn.: United Methodist Pub. House, 2012), 343.
13Ibid.
14“UMEIT Brochure,” in The Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships of the Council of Bishops website, access on April 2016, at http://www.ocuir.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/UMEIT_Brochure_2016_web.pdf.

 

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