Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.
Last week, I published a map of the UMC and affiliated denominations. This map generated a lot of discussion and a variety of questions: Why were the Italians and the Columbians and the Methodist Church of South Africa not included? Why were some but not all members of CIEMAL and some but not all members of the World Methodist Council included? Aren't there some countries with more than one type of Methodist?
I was glad to see that this map foster discussion. As a follow up, I thought it would be helpful to write some posts that contextualize the map by providing more information about the UMC's ecumenical partnerships.
Within the realm of those ecumenical partnerships, one can make a distinction between bi-lateral partnerships, that is, partnerships between The United Methodist Church and individual other denominations, and multi-lateral partnerships, that is, groups that bring together The United Methodist Church and multiple other denominations. One can further make a distinction between intra-Methodist partnerships and broader ecumenical partnerships with churches outside the Methodist tradition.
This post will examine bilateral partnerships, both with Methodist and non-Methodist denominations, and a subsequent post will examine multilateral partnerships.
The Council of Bishops (as successor to the Office of Christian Unity and Inter-religious Relations) recognizes five different types of bilateral partnerships between the UMC and other denominations.
The first type is "concordat" churches. A concordat is essentially a treaty ratified between two denominations that gives each other certain rights and privileges within that relationships. The terms of each of these concordats differs significantly, but all include an exchange of delegates between top legislative bodies, recognition of lay membership, potential, but not automatic, recognition of clergy membership, and language about collaborating in ministry, which may play out in more or less concrete ways. Concordats are not full communion agreements. In the case of the UMC, concordats are approved by General Conference and are governed by ¶570.5 and ¶574 of the Book of Discipline.
There are four concordat churches for the UMC: The Methodist Church of Great Britain, the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas, the Methodist Church of Mexico, and the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico. The first concordat was with the MCGB in 1968. At the time, it was seen as hearkening in a new era of pan-Methodist collaboration, and the expectation was that more concordats would follow. The MCM and MCCA concordats did come about in the decade or so after that, but there was never a wide-spread movement towards concordats. The MCPR concordat was ratified in 1992 when the MCPR became autonomous from the UMC, and no concordats have been passed since.
The second and third types of bilateral relationships are affiliated autonomous Methodist churches and affiliated united churches. These are churches with historical ties to the UMC and its predecessor denominations (Methodist Church, EUB, Methodist Episcopal Church, and Methodist Episcopal Church, South). As with concordat churches, affiliated status involves recognition of lay membership, potential, but not automatic, recognition of clergy membership, and language about collaborating in ministry. Affiliated denominations are allowed to send delegates to General Conference, but these delegates are non-voting. Affiliated relationships are governed by ¶570-¶572 of the Book of Discipline.
There are eighteen affiliated autonomous Methodist denominations and eight affiliated united denominations. For a full list, see the Council of Bishops website. These are the denominations highlighted in the map from last week; the "affiliated" in the title of that post was intended in a technical sense. Most of these affiliated relationships were established in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the biggest wave of conferences becoming autonomous from the UMC happened, though some date from earlier and later. Since these are denominations with historical ties to the UMC and its predecessors, denominations which came out of the British Methodist tradition, such as the Methodist Church in Sri Lanka, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, and the Uniting Church in Australia, are not in this category. There are also a few denominations, such as the Methodist Church of Italy, that have some historical ties with the UMC but are not included in this group.
The fourth category of bilateral partnerships are full communion relationships, in which two denominations recognize each other's ordination and sacraments. This allows pastors to transfer between denominations or serve congregations of the other denomination easily. Full communion agreements usually involve a joint theological affirmation. Full communion does not, however, mean structural unity. Both partners remain separate denominations. Full communion relationships are governed by ¶431 and ¶442 of the Book of Discipline.
The UMC has eight full-communion partners, seven of them primarily in the US. Five are historically African American denominations that left UMC predecessor denominations because of white supremacy. One is the Uniting Church of Sweden, which was formed out of a merger of Swedish United Methodists, Swedish Baptists, and the Mission Covenant Church in Sweden. The other two full communion partners are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Moravian Church, Northern and Southern Provinces, which also covers the US. The UMC is in the process of considering full communion with the Episcopal Church, another US-based denomination.
The final category of bilateral relationships is relationships that European United Methodists have with (formerly) state Lutheran churches in several countries, including Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, and Norway. These relationships vary by the country. Unlike ecumenical relationships in the US, these relationships are not officially recognized by General Conference or governed by the Book of Discipline. Thus, the UMC's approach to ecumenical relationships still tends to be US-centric.
While this may already seem like a dizzying array of relationships, this post has only examined direct one-to-one relationships between the UMC and other denominations. A subsequent post will examine multilateral groups such as the World Methodist Council and other bodies.