Code of Practice for the Formal Declaration of Ecumenical Welcome and Commitment
From Churches Together in Shropshire
In many villages there is only one church building and worshipping community. In these places Christians of different traditions will often combine loyalty to their particular denomination with a desire to worship and witness locally, which is much to be encouraged, and helps to strengthen a “Christian presence”.
Sometimes their own church has closed.
Sometimes they have moved into the locality.
Sometimes those who previously commuted to a church elsewhere can no longer do so through infirmity or poor public transport.
Since there is only one church in the village there is no opportunity to form a Local Ecumenical Partnership as there are no other partners. Few congregations in these places, however, are made up of members of a single denomination. Informal ecumenism of this sort occurs widely and is a great source of mutual strength, much welcomed.
The Councils and Ministers of such churches will aim to make members of other denominations feel at home, and to feel that they belong to the Christian community in that place. But the informal relationship may not always be enough.
Five denominations have therefore now made provision for affirming this informal ecumenism. The Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the United Reformed Church have each produced a Declaration of Ecumenical Welcome and Commitment which can be adopted by a local church, subject to the agreement and support of the other denominations, each according to their own disciplines. Some denominations have also produced guidelines for their own members explaining how they can be loyal to their denominational discipline in places where the Declaration has been adopted.
The Declaration is intended for places which have only one place of worship. The church making the Declaration formulates a policy towards those of other traditions who regularly attend its services. This policy should incorporate the insights, strengths, gifts and graces of the other denominations into the whole life of the congregation – including worship, mission and service, as well as the administrative and decision-making processes.
It is important that people from other traditions can feel valued and can feel they ‘belong’ even when they may not be able to become full members of their host church – perhaps because their own denomination’s rules do not allow it. Christians in some traditions set great store by formal ‘membership’. Some people who regularly worship in a denomination other than their own may wish to express their membership of that church and belong in a particular way. The policy could provide for them to do this at the outset through a short welcome, prayer, and offering ‘the right hand of fellowship.’
These Declarations are not only about individual congregations exercising Christian hospitality. They also form part of a wider plan for all the Churches in an area, as a way of ensuring that there is adequate and acknowledged pastoral care in every locality for all whatever their denominational background. So a Declaration is important not just to the local area but also to the wider Church. For that reason, representatives of the wider Church – Superintendents, Bishops, Moderators, or Regional Ministers – must always be invited to endorse and encourage what the local church is doing.
Setting up a Declaration
As most Declarations will be made by an Anglican parish church, using the provisions of the Church of England Ecumenical Canon B43, the stages below describe that process, but an equivalent process would apply to a Declaration made by a church of any of the traditions listed above.
The process of setting up a Declaration should follow the steps below:
1. A request from the Parochial Church Council (PCC) to the Intermediate Body to investigate the potential for a Declaration in a particular village. Where appropriate this could be extended to a group of villages forming a single Benefice, although each individual church will need to be processed separately. This request should be in the form of a formal resolution from the PCC.
2. Following the agreement between the PCC and the Intermediate Body, the local church should obtain the agreement of the Deanery Pastoral Committee to proceed with the process.
3. In parallel with this the Intermediate Body and the PCC will determine which local churches of other denominations should be consulted about the proposal. This would be the Parish Priest of the Catholic parish in which the village is situated, the Superintendant of the appropriate Methodist Circuit, the Area Minister of the URC, the elders of the appropriate Baptist church, the contact for the nearest Friends’ meeting and an appropriate contact for any other local church which may have or potentially may have, members in that village. Consideration should be given to making a discreet enquiry to each house inviting any who wish, to declare their interest and, if they wish, to indicate their denominational allegiance.
4. On receiving clearance of item 2, above, the Intermediate Body will write to those other local churches identified in Item 3 to inform them of the proposal and enclosing sufficient information to allow them to reach a decision on formally accepting the Declaration on behalf of their local members in accordance with their own decision-making processes. Representatives of the wider Church – Superintendents, Bishops, Moderators, Regional Ministers – should be informed of progress and be invited to endorse and encourage what the local church is doing.
5. When all the above stages are complete, the Intermediate Body will draw up the formal Declaration (a simple one page document) using the published denominational format, and, in collaboration with the host church, arrange a formal launch which should be set as part of an act of worship, during which the formal Declaration is signed by the Incumbent, the Church Wardens and a representative of the Intermediate Body. Following the formal signing, it is recommended that a copy of the declaration be displayed in the church. A laminated “Welcome” sheet for display in the church porch will be provided by the Intermediate Body.
Guidelines for host Churches
The congregation and those who lead worship will be especially aware of their responsibility to be broad, flexible and open, and to affirm a diversity of religious experience and expression. It is essential that the Ministers are aware of, and follow the rules of other churches especially to the reception of Holy Communion by members of those denominations. In particular, Roman Catholics cannot, under the discipline of their Church receive Holy Communion at a Eucharist not celebrated by a Roman Catholic Bishop or Priest. However, at the Eucharistic celebrations of other Christians, Catholics, if invited, may receive a blessing at Communion time.
Breadth and openness can be affirmed through:
Care in the choice of hymns, tunes, and hymn books
Prayers for other churches and their leaders
Careful use of language which is inclusive and not specific to one denomination
Use of Services of the Word where Eucharistic sharing is not yet possible
Consultation between those with pastoral oversight in the area about responsibility for care, initiation, nurture etc
The following are also possible under the ecumenical canons, subject to denominational disciplines:
Invitations to and encouragement of ministers of other traditions to participate in leading worship or preaching
Occasional use of other denominations’ liturgies
Occasional use of other practices of administering Holy Communion
Offering occasional (or regular) use of church buildings to other Christian traditions
1. Apart from what all Christians in a place may do together, it is necessary to bear in mind what they cannot, at present, do together. For example, Christians of some traditions have different understanding of or practice for Baptism.
2. The existence of the Declaration should be included in the Parish Profile so that a new incumbent is fully aware of it before taking up the post, to ensure continuity.
3. It is essential that the Declaration is signed and fully observed by the Incumbent of the parish. Therefore when a new Incumbent is inducted or soon afterwards, the Declaration should be renewed.
4. Declarations should be subject to a periodic review with possible re-launches at five to seven year intervals.
This Code of Practice is based on that agreed by the Shropshire Ecumenical Council at its meeting on March 3rd. 2010