Ecumenical and Interfaith Committee approves development of template for interchurch partnerships

Global Covenant Agreements (GCAs) will enhance the creation of partnerships.

Commissioners meet in small groups during the Ecumenical and Interfaith Engagement Committee meeting. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Louisville, Kentucky – The Ecumenical and Interfaith Engagement Committee of the 225th General Assembly concluded its business about noon today after approving a recommendation from the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations (GACEIR) that it creates a “global covenant agreement” (GCA) over the next two years. The agreement is to provide a template for creating formal partnerships with other denominations worldwide. The vote was 27-0.

The GCA proposal (ECU-02) is a holdover from the 2020 General Assembly, which due to the COVID-19 pandemic referred most of its business to this year’s assembly.

Commissioners meet in small groups during the Ecumenical and Interfaith Engagement Committee meeting. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

The process of developing the GCA began in 2016, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s ecumenical officer Dianna Wright told the committee, and continued to the 2018 assembly, which asked GACEIR to explore the possibility of developing a covenant relationship with the Gereja Masehi Injili di Minahasa Church (GMIM) in Indonesia.

“Because of all the conversations we were having with various partner churches,” Wright explained, “in 2020 GACEIR thought the way to address all of these was to establish a GCA with a basic formula for how to engage in these conversations and negotiations.”

The goal of the GCA – which will be brought to the 2024 General Assembly for approval and implementation – “will be flexible enough that we can customize each covenant to match the realities of the partner churches and our relationships with them,” Wright said.

In a related action, the committee voted to answer an overture from New York City Presbytery (ECU-03) seeking a specific covenant with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana (EPCG) by its action to create a GCA. Thus, the Ghana partnership will be subject to the same rubric as the committee adopted for other partner churches, including the GMIM. That vote was 24-2.

Prayer at the close of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Committee. Photo by Gregg Brekke for Presbyterian Outlook.

Robert Foltz-Morrison, executive of New York City Presbytery, outlined for the committee the long history of relationships between the EPCG and the presbytery. “There are decades of relationship between the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana and our presbytery and others, culminating in a meeting in Baltimore in 2019 that cemented the desire for this overture,” he said, noting that two Ghanaian congregations with roots in the EPCG have chartered in New York City Presbytery and two more are preparing to charter. “There are more than a dozen others in eight states going in the same direction,” Foltz-Morrison added.

Presbyterian World Mission staffer Philip Woods said the Indonesian and Ghanaian churches’ desire for formal covenants with the PC(USA) “are a reflection of the global internationalization of the Church” as global migration creates “diaspora” communities throughout the world. Woods added: “All the churches we are considering [for GCAs] are members of the World Communion of Reformed Churches so we already have numerous mutual understandings. We prefer this standard (GCA) model” to one-off agreements.

With the EPCG General Assembly scheduled for August of this year, the committee encouraged the actions of the Ghanaian church with the comment: “We want to thank the EPCG for their continued partnership with the PC(USA) and look forward to developing a covenant agreement with the EPCG and other global partners.”