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This page last updated 3 July 2017
Anglicans Online last updated 10 December 2017

For Anglicans Online

A Gift of Civility?
A Response to “The Brokenness of A Gift to the World

The Revd Thomas Ferguson

Introduction

While I certainly affirm anyone’s right their own opinion and interpretation, the repeated accusations of misrepresentation, willful abandonment of Anglican principles, and lack of candor in the essay “The Brokenness of A Gift to the World” is at times accusatory and assumes a shocking lack of good will from those involved in the Episcopal Church-United Methodist Church dialogue. It also includes several instances of factual error. As a member of the Episcopal Church-United Methodist bilateral dialogue team for fifteen years, and as a member of the drafting team for A Gift to the World, I feel compelled to offer some thoughts here.

In my comments, where I note what I perceive to be differences of opinion and difference in interpretation of the plain text of the statement, I will do Dr. Powell the courtesy of refraining from impugning his integrity and of any unfounded accusations as to his person, character, motivations, or commitment to Anglicanism. His essay focuses on three main points of discussion: the elements used in Holy Communion, the historic episcopate, and the place of the historic creeds. Accordingly, my reply will offer a response, and, on occasion, a correction to his comments.

Eucharistic Elements

UMC practice and principle do not accept any duty to celebrate the Eucharist using bread and wine. A Gift to the World does not ask the UMC to make any commitment to accept the Quadrilateral on this, and indeed simply ignores the matter.

As noted by Dr Powell himself later in his response, these matters were discussed in the guidelines for Interim Eucharistic Sharing, and in the theological document, Theological Foundation for Full Communion, so it can hardly be said that the dialogue “ignores the matter.”

The proposal is operating from the classical liturgical and theological distinctions between mimesis (to do something exactly the same as someone or something else) and anamnesis (to remember, recall, re-celebrate). Almost all Christians practice anamnesis, to differing extents, with regards to the Holy Eucharist: none of us do exactly as Jesus did. We do not hold our Communion services only on the Thursday before Passover, we do not keep kosher when we have them, and we do not use the exact same elements as Jesus. For Episcopalians, it may be a surprise Jesus did not use unleavened wafers and tawny port. To hold to a rigid interpretation of this aspect of the Quadrilateral, we will need to rethink other elements of our Eucharistic practice. Otherwise, we realize that we are doing our best to practice anamnesis. It is my personal hope that United Methodists will adopt wine more regularly, it is required to be present in joint celebrations of the Eucharist with clergy of both churches present, and I am unwilling to declare the Eucharist invalid if it is not present. Further, the Quadrilateral does not forbid the presence of grape juice. Here we have a difference of interpretation.

Historic Episcopate

A Gift to the World does not ask the UMC to accept the historic episcopate, as the Episcopal Church insisted and the Evangelical Lutheran Church agreed to do in 1999.

The statement is in error in its understanding of Called to Common Mission (hereafter CCM). We did not demand the ELCA “accept the historic episcopate,” they agreed to receive as a gift for the sake of full communion. We do not demand that the United Methodist Church adopt the historic episcopate, we ask them to share in it for the sake of full communion. 

We clearly disagree on what the fourth point of the Quadrilateral means. It is a particular interpretation to see it as demanding that churches “accept” the historic episcopate, and the Quadrilateral does not define what, exactly, the historic episcopate entails. Anglican ecumenical practice has instead spoken of being in agreement on all four points of the Quadrilateral, including sharing in the historic episcopate, which is what CCM, our Moravian full communion proposal, and A Gift to the World all propose.

The “major ecumenical breakthrough” referenced in the essay appears to be a conflation of two different statements in two different documents. In A Theological Foundation for Full Communion, there is mention of an ecumenical breakthrough in reference to a discussion concerning the World Council of Churches’ Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry statement. No one could doubt that BEM was indeed a major ecumenical breakthrough, endorsed by over 300 churches worldwide. A Theological Foundation for Full Communion and A Gift to the World do not in any way discuss the reconciliation of episcopal ministries between United Methodists and Episcopalians as “a major ecumenical breakthrough.” 

Dr Powell states that: “Repeating an argument already advanced in the 2010 study, A Gift to the World happily announces ‘a major ecumenical breakthrough,’ as a result of which there is no disagreement over episcopacy because UMC bishops actually are already within the historic episcopate.”

Thus this statement is incorrect. In addition, it includes an assertion about the emotions of the drafters (“happily”?) when it comes to intention behind various sentences which seems out of place; since I am unable to discern Dr Powell’s intentions as he is apparently able to discern mine, I cannot to say with certainty what the reasons are for including this comment.

A Gift to the World does not use the language of “a major ecumenical breakthrough”, and does not state that UMC bishops are within the historic episcopate. The actual words in A Gift to the World are:

We affirm the ministry of bishops in The United Methodist Church and The Episcopal Church to be adaptations of the historic episcopate to the needs and concerns of the post-Revolutionary missional context. We recognize the ministries of our bishops as fully valid and authentic.

We affirm mutual adaptations of the historic episcopate to the very different missional context of post-Revolutionary America. We affirm the authenticity and validity of those ministries: they are means and occasions of grace. But valid and authentic are not the same as sharing in a common ministry. We recognize the ministries of the Roman Catholic Church as valid and authentic, for instance, yet we do not have a shared ministry. Thus the proposal outlines a process by which United Methodist bishops will share in the historic episcopate through the participation of bishops already in the historic episcopate at all subsequent United Methodist episcopal consecrations because while we can recognize these ministries as authentic, it does not mean there is sharing in the historic episcopate. The document never states United Methodist bishops are already in the historic episcopate, and in fact outlines a process for them to share in the historic episcopate for the sake of full communion.

The Creeds

The unfounded accusations of willful deceit of the drafters continue in the discussion of the Creeds:

Our full communion agreements with the ELCA and the Moravian Church expressly stated this shared understanding of the creeds….A Gift to the World lacks the reference found in the ELCA and MC documents to “the basic Trinitarian and Christological Dogmas to which those creeds testify,” but that might be no more than the result of a different drafting history – after all, the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral itself does not include that language. However, since we know that at other points A Gift to the World is artfully silent, there is reason for concern that its omission of language found in the two previous EC full communion agreements is not accidental.

The author acknowledges the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral does not contain any explanatory language about what, exactly, it means to affirm and accept the Creeds, but, since apparently the document is routinely and regularly deceitful, the lack of any explanatory language here “is not accidental” and is definitively (“not accidental”, again having an insight into the drafting process that I as a drafter do not) an attempt at deception.  

The language of “sufficient” is draw from previous ecumenical documents, for instance Resolution A055 of the 2006 General Convention, which was, in turn, based on similar Interim Eucharistic Sharing resolutions with the Moravian Church and the ELCA. We have major and substantive international dialogue statements from dialogues between the Anglican Communion and the World Methodist Council that form part of the broader backdrop of our bilateral discussion — Sharing in the Apostolic Communion and Into all the World — which affirm the basic Trinitarian doctrines of the Creeds. The nature, purpose, and function of the Creeds within Methodism was agreed upon over twenty years ago in Sharing in the Apostolic Communion. If it would strengthen the proposal, I would be glad to suggest a revision to include this language which Episcopalians and United Methodists would wholeheartedly affirm concerning the Trinitarian and Christological affirmations. I would also refer persons to the United Methodist Book of Discipline — their binding constitutional and canonical authority — rather than a FAQ on a website, for the United Methodist Church’s official position on the Creeds and formulation of doctrine. I would certainly not want the definitive understanding of the Episcopal Church to be found in an essay on our website. Section 102 of The United Methodist Book of Discipline speaks of the canon of Scripture and ecumenical creeds as the foundations of formulation of Christian doctrine and belief. The Articles of Religion of The United Methodist Church, also contained in their Book of Discipline as a doctrinal standard (unlike in the Book of Common Prayer, where they are included in the historical documents section), attest to Trinitarian and Chalcedonian orthodoxy.

Appendices:

The bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who were installed before 1999 were not within the ancient, historic succession, as the ELCA acknowledged.

True, but the ministries of these bishops were recognized as valid and authentic. After January 1, 2001, all future ELCA bishops had to be installed according to the provisions of CCM. Yet current bishops as of January 1, 2001 were not required to be installed according to CCM, and continued to serve and preside at ordinations. Those ordinations were recognized as valid and authentic and those pastors were eligible for service, even though their bishops were not in historic succession. CCM recognized the ministries of ELCA bishops, while requiring installation according to CCM moving forward. A Gift to the World is proposing the exact same process: recognizing current UMC bishops, and requiring sharing in the historic episcopate moving forward.

It became clear, in other words, that Moravians have historically lived out their adherence to the principle of the historic episcopate beyond any fair question: “We affirm the local adaptation of the ministry of bishops through the tremendous faithfulness that the Moravian Church has demonstrated in maintaining a succession of bishops which they had originally understood to be of apostolic origin.”

Yes, but despite this faithfulness and intent, the Moravian Church needed to share in the historic episcopate, and that proposal designed a process to share the sign of the historic episcopate with all Moravian bishops. 

Conclusion

I thank Dr. Powell for his engagement with this proposal; if only all Episcopalians were this attentive and energetic about our ecumenical dialogues! This response has been an attempt to point out where I feel there have been some “errors of fact” in his posting, which he freely acknowledges may be present. I also admit there are clearly some differences in interpretation, and hope as discussion of this proposal moves forward those differences can be discussed with civility, respect, and charity, and without resorting to unfounded accusations of dishonesty, deceit, and abandonment of fundamental principles.


The Revd Thomas Ferguson, MDiv, ThM, PhD. Associate Deputy for Ecumenical Relations to the Presiding Bishop, 2001-2009; Interim Ecumenical Officer, 2009-2010; Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer, 2010-2011; Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Church History, Bexley Seabury Seminary Federation, 2011-2016; Rector, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Sandwich, MA, 2016-present. Staff support for United Methodist-Episcopal Bilateral Dialogue, 2002-2011; Member of Drafting Team, A Theological Foundation for Full Communion; Member of Drafting Team, A Gift to the World.