Committees approve ongoing dialogue with United Methodist Church, with goal of full communion

By Melodie Woerman
Posted May 28, 2024

Northern Indiana Bishop Douglas Sparks speaks during the May 24 meeting of the bishops’ and deputies’ legislative committees on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations.

[Episcopal News Service] General Convention’s committees on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations on May 24 adopted a resolution that celebrates the United Methodist Church’s recent decision to remove restrictions on LGBTQ+ clergy and calls for continuing dialogue and additional planning before The Episcopal Church would vote on full communion.

The resolution, a substitute to Resolution A049, celebrates the historic votes taken by the United Methodist Church during their recent General Conference, while also setting out needed action before The Episcopal Church would vote on full communion.

“This resolution is saying that we move forward with considering full communion with the United Methodist Church, but we want some specific action items to take place,” the Rt. Rev. R. William Franklin, assisting bishop in the Diocese of Long Island and chair of the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, told the committees. “I would say this is not just a study document that’s been proposed, but an action plan to keep this moving.”

The move toward full communion was put on hold in 2020 when the United Methodist Church postponed its planned General Conference that year first to 2021 and then to 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The meeting took place April 23-May 3, 2024, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Methodist delegates voted that its pastors would no longer face potential penalties for being in a same-sex relationship or officiating at weddings of same-sex couples, and they also adopted full communion with The Episcopal Church. But Franklin said more work needs to be done before The Episcopal Church can take a full-communion vote, including the creation of a document for the orderly exchange of ministers and a plan for how ordained ministry will be recognized by each denomination.

Northern Indiana Bishop Douglas Sparks, chair of the bishop’s committee, said that an orderly exchange document with the United Methodist Church does not yet exist, as it does with full-communion partners including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Moravian Church.

The Rev. Margaret Rose, the presiding bishop’s deputy for ecumenical and interreligious relations who was an observer at the meeting, said in response to a question that when such a full-communion vote would take place, it would be to approve the same document approved by the UMC, A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers for the Healing of Brokenness, which was created by the United Methodist–Episcopal Dialogue.

Legislative committees include parallel committees of deputies and bishops, which, though distinct, typically meet and deliberate together in advance of General Convention but vote separately.

Both the deputies’ and bishops’ committees voted to recommend that the 81st General Convention adopt six other resolutions when it meets in Louisville, Kentucky, June 23-28.

The General Convention is the governing body of The Episcopal Church. Every three years it meets as a bicameral legislature dividing its authority between the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops and is composed of members from each diocese.

—Melodie Woerman is a freelance reporter based in Kansas.