One of the boldest efforts in ecumenical history to build Christian unity has entered a new phase, one that is showing promise, according to participants.
Dr. Bertrice Wood, director of Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC), began a recent meeting of its Coordinating Council with the positive assessment that "Churches Uniting in Christ is finding momentum in relation to solid work that has been done this past year in the three primary areas of its life--local/regional initiatives, racial justice, and the reconciliation of ministries."
Today nine churches participate in CUIC which was inaugurated on January 20, 2002, by the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church Zion, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the International Council of Community Churches.
In recent years two other churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Northern Province of the Moravian Church, have joined as "partners in mission and dialogue."
As it moves into its new phase, it draws on the vision of its predecessor, the Consultation on Church Union (COCU), that in the early 1960s shaped a dream for organic union. Over the years that dream was modified when it became clear that the participating churches did not agree on how to order their ministries. The Presbyterians, for example, ordain elders while the Episcopalians consecrate bishops in the historic episcopate. Yet continuing cooperation drew the churches closer together and in 1999 COCU proposed a covenant relationship based on "visible marks of unity" they share.
Task forces build networks
Meeting in Louisville in the national offices of the Presbyterian Church (USA) on October 24-25, 2003, the Coordinating Council heard reports from its three task forces and began a process of strategic planning for the future.
The Rev. Kathy Reeves of the PC(USA) detailed a number of initiatives for increasing the awareness of, and participation by member churches of CUIC in local communities around the country. Pilot programs are being developed in Denver, Los Angeles, and Memphis involving local religious leaders and councils of churches. There is also a new initiative from the task force to build relationships with seminaries and the theological communities in the CUIC member communions, especially in exploring the development of a common polity course that might be offered.
Wood outlined plans for an important conference on racial justice slated for March 29, 2004, in Chicago. The theme of the conference is "Eradicating Racism: Liberating Tomorrow's Children." Bishop Steve Charleston, president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, will be the keynote speaker.
Ministry still an issue
The Rev. Lydia Veliko of the United Church of Christ reviewed the work of the ministry task force that is addressing the thorny issues related to the reconciliation of ordained ministries among the CUIC communions. The draft text of a proposal for the reconciliation of ministries was presented and discussed. Based upon a new timeline approved at this meeting, it is hoped that the proposal will be available to be transmitted to the member communions in mid-2005 for official consideration and action.
The Rev. Arthur Kennedy, ecumenical officer for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, was welcomed at this meeting as an official observer to CUIC, and the Rev. Christopher Skidmore, a member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and staff member of the Kentucky Council of Churches, was welcomed as a special guest.
Member communions have been steady in their support of this unity initiative, and a balanced budget is projected for 2004. The Coordinating Council also embarked on a process of developing a strategic plan that will remain on the agenda for its next meeting planned for the spring.
An updated Liturgy of the Lord's Supper will soon be available on the CUIC web site.
Sharing in mission
The aim of CUIC is full communion, not a merger of churches but a mutual sharing in mission and the recognition and reconciliation of the churches' ordained ministries. Each communion retains its own identity and decision-making structures, but all have pledged before God to draw closer in sacred things--including regular sharing of the Lord's Supper and common mission, especially in combating racism.
"We are fully engaged in all three of the task forces, as well as the Coordinating Committee," said Bishop Christopher Epting, deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations for the Episcopal Church. "The Rev. Jayne Oasin chairs the racial justice task force, Bishop Douglas Theuner of New Hampshire serves on the local initiatives group, Bishop Stacy Sauls and Prof. J. Robert Wright of the General Theological Seminary, play important roles on the ministry task force. The Rev. Dan Krutz is our representative on the Coordinating Committee."
Epting said that "more progress has been made in the ministry area than I would have thought possible at this stage." He also said that the March 29 racial justice round table "holds real promise. And I have been in touch with our diocesan ecumenical officers in Los Angeles, Denver and Memphis to ask them to support pilot programs in those areas identified by the local initiatives group. I now look forward to some tangible results in all three of those areas," he added.