Existing Models of Wesleyan Unity

I am hoping to expand the options under consideration by our church with regard to our current crisis. Too often people talk about a binary choice—splitting or unity. In reality there are middle-ground (extremecenter) options.

The vision statement of the Commission on a Way Forward makes a reference to “as much unity as possible.” The entire paragraph reads as follows:

The Commission will design a way for being church that maximizes the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible, that allows for as much contextual differentiation as possible, and that balances an approach to different theological understandings of human sexuality with a desire for as much unity as possible. This unity will not be grounded in our conceptions of human sexuality, but in our affirmation of the Triune God who calls us to be a grace-filled and holy people in the Wesleyan tradition.

The question then arises, what are the options for “as much unity as possible?” A good starting place is to consider the four forms of unity we already practice: full communion, the World Methodist Council, affiliated autonomous churches and pan-Methodist churches.

Full communion

Paragraph 431.1(b) describes full communion as one that exists between two or more Christian churches that recognize each other as genuine churches, recognize the authenticity of each other’s sacraments, affirm the authenticity of each other’s ministry and recognize the validity of each other’s offices of ministry. We are in full communion, for example, with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Such relationships allow for shared sacraments, easier exchange of ministers and stronger missional cooperation.

World Methodist Council

This body includes many denominations in the Wesleyan family. They have a shared doctrinal statement and engage in cooperative work around evangelism and ecumenical dialogue. A major conference is held every 5 years for mutual learning and the building of relationships.

Affiliated Autonomous

Many churches in Latin America and Asia have the status of “affiliated autonomous church” recognizing they once were part of the UMC or its predecessors and have now become self-governing. Our General Board of Global Ministries has strong relationships with these daughter churches, including the placing of a regional office in Seoul, Korea.

Pan-Methodist

We have a close relationship with five other US churches which are predominantly Africa-American. The six denominations are all self-governing, but we share (for the most part) similar doctrines and episcopal governance structures. The bishops of the churches meet together every other year and there is a commission governing cooperating work. We are engaged currently in a Campaign for Children in Poverty.

Vehicles of Shared Ministry

It is important to understand that three of our general agencies are empowered to have significant missional relationships to embody this other forms of unity. The General Board of Pensions could provide pension management to any church associated with the UMC if the Board approves. The United Methodist Publishing House is already providing services to other denominations. The General Board of Global Ministries works with many partners, especially affiliated autonomous churches, to accomplish our ministry.

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