Mission Center: The Episcopal Church: Partnerships

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The Church Organized for Ecumenism - from the EIR Handbook
The Episcopal Church
Ecumenical responsibilities of the Episcopal Church are implemented by the General Convention (legislates), the Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations (develops policy and strategy), the Presiding Bishop of the Church (chief pastor and primate), and the Executive Council (develops and implements program). The Ecumenical Officer assists the Presiding Bishop, the Standing Commission, and the Executive Council to carry out their responsibilities.

These instrumentalities, because of the very way in which Christ is manifested in His Church, are in no way a substitute for the responsibilities of the diocesan church. The churchwide bodies are a means to promote the life and witness of the dioceses, to reach consensus on issues which transcend diocesan territories, and to foster communion.

Ecumenical Officer
The position of Ecumenical Officer was established by General Convention in 1961 as a special assistant to the Presiding Bishop. The duties were described as administrative responsibilities for the Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations, day-to-day business with the National and World Councils of Churches, keeping the church at large adequately informed and in touch with all phases of the ecumenical movement, education at diocesan and parish levels, apprising the Presiding Bishop and his staff of matters of importance, deepening and extending the involvement of provinces and dioceses, coordinating the ecumenical activity and work of the Episcopal Church, and planning for its respon-sible participation in ecumenical affairs.

The Ecumenical Officer assists the Presiding Bishop, the Standing Commission, the Executive Council, the Dioceses of this Church, and the Anglican Commu-nion to promote Christian unity in life and doctrine and cooperation in mission (proclamation, worship, service) under directives from the General Convention. The Officer explores options and makes recommendations, contributes through theological study and reflection to ecumenical progress, and gives informed interpretation of new directions, insights, and developments. The Officer relates to a variety of institutions and persons, including other communions in the United States and the world, and national and international ecumenical organizations.

The Ecumenical Officer assists the SCER’s Committee on Interfaith Relations in promoting interreligious relations in cooperation with other churches and the World and National Councils of Churches.

General Convention
The General Convention, consisting of the House of Bishops and elected clergy and lay people in the House of Deputies, meets every three years. The two houses normally sit and deliberate separately. Either house may originate and propose legislation, but all acts of the Convention must be adopted by both houses. Each house has a Committee on Ecumenical Relations to which proposed resolutions are referred and which reports recommendations for action. The two committees meet jointly. Through its legislative process, the General Convention determines ecumenical commitments, policies, and programs of the Episcopal Church.

The House of Bishops meets each year between General Conventions and has certain responsibilities of its own. The bishops occasionally state the mind of the House on doctrinal or pastoral issues involved in ecumenical relations, thus setting policy as chief pastors of the dioceses. On some matters they may act as "the body known as the Bishops in Council, as an assemblage of Catholic Bishops, and considering and acting upon matters of duty or responsibility resting on them as a portion of the universal Episcopate..." (Rules of Order).

Presiding Bishop of the Church
Pastor and Primate," is "charged with responsibi-lity for leadership in initiating and developing the policy and strategy of the Church and, as Chairman of the Executive Council of General Convention, with ultimate responsibility for the implementation of such policy and strategy through the conduct of policies and programs authorized by the General Convention or approved by the Executive Council of the General Convention." He/She shall "Speak God's words to the Church and to the world, as the representative of this Church and its episcopate in its corporate capacity" (Constitution and Canons, Title I, Canon 4.a).

The Presiding Bishop exercises a ministry of unity and coordination. He/She fosters communion by helping the bishops in their task of apostolic leadership both in their local churches and in the Church universal. Primacy fulfills its purpose by helping the Provinces to listen to one another, to grow in love and unity, and to strive together towards the fullness of Christian life and witness. The ministry of primacy is expressed, not in isolation, but in collegial association with the bishops.

As this Church's primary ecumenical representative, the Presiding Bishop assures that ecumenical commitment is manifested in the Episcopal Church, and represents this Church through visits and relations with leaders of other churches in the United States and abroad and in ecumenical organizations. The Presiding Bishop delegates others as representatives from time to time. The Presiding Bishop also appoints officers, such as the Ecumenical Officer, "responsible to the Presiding Bishop who may delegate such authority as shall seem appropriate" (Constitution and Canons, Title I, Canon 2.4.c).

Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations
The Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations of the General Convention is canonically responsible "to develop a comprehensive and coordinated policy and strategy on relations between this Church and other churches, to make recommendations to General Convention concerning inter-church cooperation and unity, and to carry out such instructions on ecumenical matters as may be given it from time to time by the General Convention. It shall also nominate for appointment by the Presiding Bishop, with the advice and consent of the Executive Council, persons to serve on the governing bodies of ecumenical organizations to which this Church belongs by action of the General Convention and to participate in major conferences as convened by such organizations" (Constitution and Canons, Title I, Canon 1.2.n(5)).

The Commission was the result of a combination in 1964 of three former Joint Commissions concerned with ecumenical matters (Co-operation with the Eastern and Old Catholic churches, Approaches to Unity, Ecumenical Relations). The resolution to merge spelled out its tasks: "to develop a comprehensive and coordinated policy and strategy on relations with other churches, confirming, interpreting, or making fresh definitions, in harmony with the faith and canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church, thus involving (a) statements on Faith and Order, (b) theological discussions with other churches, separately or in ecumenical gatherings, and (c) questions of Church law, tradition, and worship, arising in relationships with other churches" (Journal of General Convention, 1964). As early as 1949 the old Joint Commission on Ecumenical Relations was instructed "to see that the Church is kept informed as to progress in this field, especially at the grass roots level, and that it be held responsible for maintaining and furthering our close fellowship and cooperation" with the World Council of Churches, "particularly with that Council's Commission on Faith and Order" and the National Council of Churches (Journal of General Convention, 1949).

Much of the work of the Commission is done through sub-groups of expert representatives who meet with representatives of churches with which we seek full communion, and with churches with which we are already in full communion. The Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies are ex officio members of the Commission, and appoint respectively the six bishops, and the six priests or deacons and six laity who are its members.

Executive Council
The Executive Council of the General Convention is canonically responsible "to carry out the program and policies adopted by the General Convention." It has "charge of the unification, development, and prosecution of the Missionary, Educational, and Social Work of the church, and of such other work as may be committed to it by the General Convention." The Presiding Bishop is ex officio President of the Council and the President of the House of Deputies is Vice-President. Members of the Council are bishops, priests or deacons, and laity elected by the General Convention and the nine provinces. The Executive Council's Standing Committee on Program is responsible for the review and development of ecumenical and interfaith matters, though other Council committees also have ecumenical responsibilities.

The Executive Council is accountable to General Convention and reports concerning the work with which it is charged by each meeting of the Convention. Between sessions of Convention, the Council may initiate and develop such new work as it deems necessary. The Council submits to each Convention a General Program Budget for the succeeding triennium, including a detailed budget for the ensuing year and estimated total budgets for two succeeding years.

The Presiding Bishop and Executive Council presented the following eight "Mission Imperatives" to the 1988 General Convention: - Inspire others by serving them and leading them to seek, follow, and serve Jesus Christ through membership in his church. - Develop and promote educational systems and resources which support the ministry of the people of God. - Strengthen and affirm the partnership of the Episcopal Church within the Anglican Communion in proclaiming and serving God's Kingdom throughout the world. - Communicate in a compelling way the work of the Church in response to the Gospel. - Strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. - Act in faithful stewardship in response to the biblical teaching of the right use of God's creation. - Support individuals and families in their struggle for wholeness by knowing and living the values of the Gospel. - Commit ourselves to the unity of the Church and of all God's people.


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