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United Church of Canada, United Church of Christ formalize full communion

22 October 2015

The United Church of Christ and The United Church of Canada, both members of the World Council of Churches (WCC), formalized a full communion agreement in a worship service at St. Andrew's United Church, Niagara Falls, Ontario, on 17 October.

Through the agreement, the US-based and Canadian-based churches agreed to “commit to living into a common vision of ministry and mission together, to exploring the possibilities of this full communion relationship, and to finding ways of living into deeper, fuller expressions of witness that will strengthen the Church as we learn and grow together.”

Bishop Mark MacDonald, WCC president for North America and the National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada, shared a message at the service.

The agreement comes as the result of dialogue after the two churches formally began conversations regarding full communion in 2012. “Full communion” means that the churches recognize each other’s sacraments and ordination of ministers, allowing pastors to be called by congregations of either denomination.

This is the United Church of Christ’s fourth full communion agreement and the first for the United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant denomination in Canada with some 3 million members. The United Church of Christ practices full communion with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a four-way Formula of Agreement with the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and a "Kirchengemeinshaft" with the Union of Evangelical Churches in Germany (UEK).

The United Church of Christ and the United Church of Canada are the only two Christian bodies in North America recognized as “united and uniting” churches. The United Church of Canada came into being in 1925 as the first union in the 20th century to cross historic denominational lines. The United Church of Christ was formed on June 27, 1957, in Cleveland, Ohio (United States) with the merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches.

There are similarities between the two churches in their commitment to social justice and commitment to inclusion of diversity in sexual and gender identities, in disabilities, in theological openness and expression. The United Church of Christ, through its predecessor bodies, ordained its first female minister in 1853, its first African-American minister in 1892, and its first openly gay minister in 1972. The United Church of Canada first ordained women in 1936 and in 1988 declared that sexual orientation was not a criterion for determining eligibility for ordination.

Moment of celebration

In a letter sent to the moderators of the two churches, the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary, offered congratulations of behalf of the world Christian fellowship.

"The witness of the United Church of Canada and the United Church of Christ is vital today,” he wrote. “Through commitment to Christian solidarity, your churches are closely identified with the whole ecumenical movement, and are models of what can be achieved when, while respecting differences, churches recognize and encourage each other’s spiritual life, commitment to ministry and public witness.”

Natasha Klukach, WCC programme executive for Church and Ecumenical Relations, said that the action of these churches will augment the fellowship not only of the two participating churches but of the WCC as a whole.

“When our member churches find ways of deepening relationships, of recognizing in each other this depth of koinonia, the whole fellowship is enriched and strengthened,” she said. “For North America in particular, seeing ecumenical relationships flourishing across the border gives new energy and possibility for the churches of the region.”

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