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GA News: Committee to recommend four ecumenical agreements

SAN JOSE — The Committee on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations has voted to recommend that the 218th General Assembly adopt four ecumenical agreements intended to move the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) toward greater unity with other denominations.

The proposed agreements are with the Korean Presbyterian Church in America, the Moravian Church in America, the Episcopal Church, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The agreements grew out of protracted conversations between representatives of the PC(USA) and the other bodies. All four were proposed to the Assembly by the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical Relations.

“The purpose of all these agreements is to help strengthen the mission of Christ in the world through our churches together,” said the Rev. Robina Winbush, an associate stated clerk of the General Assembly.

The agreements with the Korean Presbyterian Church in America (KPCA) and the Moravian Church in America are “covenant agreements,” which are equivalent to what historically has been called “full communion.”

They call for the exchange and recognition of each other’s ordained ministers and for cooperative efforts in mission and resource development.

The Rev. Syngman Rhee, moderator of the 212th General Assembly (2000), told the committee that the PC(USA) and the KPCA began working on the agreement 15 years ago.

The KPCA was formed by Korean immigrants, whose numbers swelled when U.S. immigration laws were loosened in the mid 1960s. At that point, the PC(USA)’s predecessor denominations were unprepared to accept large numbers of Korean Presbyterians, Rhee said.

The Moravian Church traces its roots to the 15th-century reformer John Hus. The first Moravians arrived in America in 1735.

The Rev. Robert Sawyer, immediate past president of the Moravian Church in America’s southern province, said Moravians have enjoyed a good relationship with the PC(USA). “It is my joy that we have the possibility of formalizing it with this covenant agreement.”

The proposed agreement with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops calls for the mutual recognition of Baptism. However, the Rev. Jose Rubio, a representative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the action would formalize what already has been occurring.

“I can’t imagine a Catholic priest who would re-baptize a Presbyterian who wants to be a Catholic,” Rubio said. “I don’t know of a Presbyterian minister who would re-baptize a Catholic who wants to be a Presbyterian.”

The proposed agreement with the Episcopal Church would open the door for more joint mission activity but stops short of full orderly exchange of ministers. However, it would allow Presbyterian and Episcopal clergy to perform ministerial functions in each other’s congregations “when requested and
approved by the diocesan bishop and local presbytery.”

“We recognize the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as a church of Christ and we recognize ministers of the PC(USA) as gifts from God,” said the Rev. Dirk Reinken, an Episcopalian who participated in writing the agreement.

In other action, the committee referred to the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical Relations an overture concerning the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC).

In the overture, the Presbytery of Peace River charges that the EPC is recruiting PC(USA) congregations for membership in the EPC. A non-geographical EPC presbytery has been formed to receive PC(USA) congregations who leave the denomination.

The overture asks that the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, of which both the PC(USA) and the EPC are members, investigate the matter and “take appropriate action.”

The committee also affirmed recommendations from the Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACC) related to the EPC. The general presbyter/stated clerk of the Presbytery of Charlotte had asked the ACC if a presbytery can dismiss a congregation to a transitional presbytery within the EPC, and if a presbytery can dismiss a minister to an EPC transitional presbytery.

Regarding congregations, the ACC responded that the EPC presbytery must be:
-consistent with the PC(USA) presbytery’s understanding of Reformed theology;
-governed by a polity consistent with that of the PC(USA);
-“of sufficient permanence” so that the congregation is not being dismissed to “de facto independence.”
The ACC said that PC(USA) ministers could be dismissed to transitional EPC presbyteries “provided they have determined that such transitional presbyteries have jurisdiction over the work to which the dismissed minister is called.” However, PC(USA) presbyteries should “honor their pastoral obligation to the minister requesting dismissal by informing him or her of the General Assembly’s grave concerns over the uncertainty and impermanence of transitional presbyteries of the EPC, and of the consequences of the dismissal for any future relationship with” the PC(USA).
The recommendations will be considered by the full General Assembly later this week.