In 2016, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the US and Canada and The United Church of Canada determined that a full communion agreement would provide an opportunity to bear witness to the importance Christian unity in North America, and strengthen the ministry of both of our denominations. This report offers reflections on issues and implications relating to full communion, as background to the proposal that the two denominations undertake a full communion agreement.
The Disciples Canadian Region and the United Church have a long-standing history together. Our relationship spans from local congregational partnerships, to educational and ecumenical endeavors, and includes an unsuccessful union talk that took place between 1969-1985. A lasting product of those conversations is joint United-Disciples congregations in Winnipeg and Calgary. Some Disciples clergy serve in United Church congregations and in general church leadership. Theologically, we both have a passion for justice and mission and hold similar “statements of faith.” There are significant differences in governance and the administration of the sacraments, but the Planning Group has discerned that these are not barriers to a full communion relationship. Both denominations are in full communion with the United Church of Christ in the USA; we share global partners through Global Ministries and Church in Mission. An agreement between The United Church of Canada and the Disciples of Christ would “close the triangle” and mark a new era of ecumenical partnership in North America.
Full communion agreements generally rest on five pillars of acceptance and cooperation: common confession of Christ, mutual recognition of members, common celebration of the Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion, mutual recognition and reconciliation of ordered ministers, and common commitment to mission. The two denominations have understood a full communion as a living and growing relationship. We will learn how to live in this covenantal relationship through rich theological conversations, enhanced witness and mission, and diverse spiritual life and worship.
Congregations can embody full communion through shared worship and mission, congregation or clergy exchanges, or shared networks. National, bi-national, and international possibilities include collaboration in global partnership work, response to the challenges of migration, connecting youth and young adult networks, and joint work in the areas of stewardship, human resources, and communications. Along with mutual recognition of ministries, there may be opportunities for partnership in theological education. Many creative possibilities in our relationship will be discovered as we live into our mission and ministry together.
The planning group recognizes challenges as well as opportunities, including institutional capacity, learning to know each other in our present contexts, restrictions on immigration, and the challenges both denominations meet in becoming intercultural, justice-seeking churches.
The gospel of Jesus Christ calls on the followers of Christ to live life in unity for the sake of the world, so “that the world may believe….” (John 17:21) May this journey of full communion be truly transformative and may God lead this journey with divine wisdom and in grace.