Guidelines for Covenanted Partnerships

What is a Local Ecumenical Partnership?

A Local Ecumenical Partnership (LEP) is defined as existing ‘where there is a formal written agreement affecting the ministry, congregational life, buildings, and/or mission projects of more than one denomination; and a recognition of that agreement by the Sponsoring Body and the appropriate denominational authorities’. There are six types of LEP.
 
So a congregations in covenanted partnership LEP must:
  • have a formal written agreement affecting the ministry, congregational life, buildings, and/or mission projects of more than one denomination – this is the LEP Covenant and constitution
  • be recognised by a Sponsoring Body – this is where the LEP will look for support, encouragement, advice and oversight
  • and be recognised by appropriate denominational authorities – these authorities (Diocese, District, Synod, Association etc) are different for each denomination, but will usually be signified by the signing of the LEP constitution by Church Leaders.
What follows are guidelines for drawing up the documentation for a Congregations in Covenanted Partnership (type 2) LEP, which should include a Covenant and a constitution.
 

Covenant

 
A Congregations in Covenanted Partnership Local Ecumenical Partnership is made up of two or more congregations in a village, town or area. A Covenanted Partnership has to be built on a solid foundation of friendship and trust between both the clergy and the congregations of the partner churches.
 
These churches continue to worship in their own buildings with their own structures, but will have a high degree of commitment to sharing in worship, prayer, study, and community outreach. While each congregation maintains its own ethos and tradition, these will be shared with its partner congregations. All the partner churches commit themselves to look outwards and work together in their communities for evangelisation and mission.
 
The covenant of a type 2 LEP should include clear indication of and commitment to objectives in the areas of mission, joint ministry, shared worship, training and mutual care. To describe only general aspirations of ‘working more closely together’ is not sufficient! A covenant is a serious commitment to work towards visible unity of the churches in your area, however this is articulated.
 
Because it is a serious undertaking, there should be formal acceptance of the covenant and accompanying constitution of the LEP by each of the congregations involved, so that all their praying and decision making is done with an awareness of the other congregations in it. 
 
Acceptance of the covenant and constitution by the appropriate denominational and ecumenical authorities is the key difference between an informal local agreement and a binding covenant LEP. Their formal acceptance, usually indicated by signing the covenant document, commits, for example, those responsible for ministerial placement to take note of the ecumenical partnership when recommending ministerial changes. It also commits ecumenical bodies to a formal relationship of care and support for the LEP, including regular review and ongoing advice. For LEPs involving the Church of England, it invokes Canon B44, which allows local churches more opportunities for sharing in worship.
 
So a covenant should include a statement of what the partner churches are committing themselves to do together instead of separately, and why they are doing it. It is a reminder to themselves and a public statement both to the local community they serve and to the wider constituency of the Churches of which they are part. When in future the LEP comes to be reviewed, the life of the partnership will be examined in the light of the Covenant to which they are committed. It expresses the essential spirit of the Partnership and gives the people a vision to which they can commit themselves. This theological basis for working together is normally the focal point of the public act of worship which inaugurates the partnership. Good practice is to have a signed copy of the Ecumenical Vision Statement on display in each of the churches.
 
Here is an example of a possible format for a Covenant:-
 
CHURCHES TOGETHER IN PRAISETOWN AND DISTRICT LOCAL COVENANT
 
In obedience to the call of Christ, we, the ministers and people of
  • New Testament Assembly, Praisetown
  • Our Lady & St Thomas Parish Church (Roman Catholic)
  • Praisetown United Reformed Church
  • Prayer Road Baptist Church
  • St Chad’s Parish Church (Church of England)
  • St John’s Parish Church (Church of England)
  • Salvation Army Corps, Praisetown
  • Wesley Methodist Church
  • St Mary’s Parish Church, Praisetown (Church of England)
  • Zion Methodist Church, West Praisetown
  • St Hilda’s Parish Church (Church of England), Praisedale
  • St Hugh’s Parish Church (Church of England), Little Praises on the Water
who have increasingly shared our Christian life in a variety of ways over recent years, now feel a need to show our love for God and for one another by a more formal commitment to grow together in doing His will.
 
We confess our Faith in One God,
the Father, Creator,
the Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour,
the Holy Spirit,
guiding His Church, the Body of Christ, into all truth.
 
We repent of all that is sinful in our past histories and present attitudes.
We rejoice in the riches of the traditions we have inherited and seek to share them more fully with one another in the unity which is the will and gift of God.

We seek a deepening of our communion with Christ and with one another.

We covenant to seek visible unity, even though in our pilgrimage together we cannot foresee the form it will eventually take.

We therefore make this commitment to God and to each other.

We commit ourselves and our churches
  1. To move through co-operation to clear commitment to each other, in search of the unity for which Christ prayed and in common evangelism and service to the world.
     
  2. To engage in joint worship, prayer and study so that we may know and value each other and seek God's will for His people.
     
  3. To work together in pastoral, social and evangelistic outreach into our community.
     
  4. To publicise and promote our Church life and worship by joint means wherever possible.
     
  5. To develop an Ecumenical Ministry Team for regular prayer, study, consultation and appropriate action.
     
  6. To co-ordinate decision-making and use of resources through a Partnership Enabling Group comprising the Ecumenical Ministry Team and two lay representatives appointed by and from each participating congregation.
     
  7. To ensure that each ordained or lay appointment to the Ecumenical Ministry Team, although made by the appropriate denomination, is made with such consultation with the Ecumenical Ministry Team as is reasonably possible, consonant with denominational procedures.
     
  8. To set specific targets under each of the above headings and review progress annually and to express our achievements and aspirations in a united act of worship and rededication, marking the anniversary of the signing of this covenant.
 
SIGNED by Local Clergy and Ministers plus two lay representatives of each partner local Church.
COUNTERSIGNED by official denominational representatives serving on the Sponsoring Body.
 
NOTE:
The covenant should be signed during the course of a solemn act of worship attended by as many people as possible from the partner Churches and at least one Sponsoring Body representative from each of the denominations represented.   It may be desirable to provide an opportunity for those attending to add their own signature to one large sheet. Copies should be made and displayed in the foyer or worship area of each Church. The document can be copied and postcards made for individual use.
 

Constitution

 
LEPs vary in the realities of their life and one size of constitution will probably not fit all situations. Agreeing a constitution can seem an unnecessary diversion to those engaged at the front line of mission and pastoral care but is an important task. Constitutions set out how you will do what you have agreed you want to do, for example, what elements of mission activity will be shared. The 2002 CTE Consultation on LEPs said that ‘Structures need to be light, robust, flexible and purposive.’ So these guidelines are not ‘off-the-peg’ documents which merely need the insertion of the name of the new LEP. But they have been thoroughly discussed by the Churches Group for Local Unity and approved by the member Churches in ways appropriate to each of them.
 
Work through the following areas for consideration (you will find it helpful to have an experienced person with you such as a Donominational Ecumenical Officer. They will give you the building blocks for your constitution, and also help to focus and clarify your thoughts together about how you want your LEP to work. ‘Ecumenical Notes’ will also be an invaluable resource - this publication is available from CTE and includes lots of helpful advice and guidelines from the denominations (your County Ecumenical Officer should also have a copy). 
 
Numbers relate to the sections in the Model Constitution.
 
  1. Practicalities 
What will the LEP be called? The name of the LEP can be important in helping people both within and outside the LEP understand its nature and its make-up of partner churches. The name should also be carefully chosen to ensure that there is no confusion with any other local ecumenical grouping. This is particularly the case when the LEP exists within a wider Churches Together group.
 
Who are your partners? Have you talked with all the churches in the area to see if they would like to be a part of the Partnership?
 
Where will the LEP look for support, encouragement, advice and oversight? In most cases this will be the ecumenical instrument for the County or Metropolitan area in which the LEP is situated. The County Ecumenical Officer (or other officer of the instrument) will be able to advise you on their usual support mechanisms. 
  1. Christian Initiation 
What issues do you think you might encounter in the area of Christian initiation and formation? It is better to discuss them and arrive at a policy now than when a pastoral situation arises! Things to think about include possibilities for joint confirmation; options available to parents of children and for re-affirming baptismal promises; and a pastoral policy for situations where someone requests believers’ baptism having received infant baptism (particularly important when there are Baptists in the Partnership).
 
Two options are given in the Model Constitution, one for LEPs which decide not to implement joint confirmation, and one for those which do.
  1. Ministry
In some Congregations in Covenanted Partnership LEPs, each congregation will make their own arrangements for ministry. It is important to discuss how the ministers will work together, and what aspects of ministry will be shared. Other LEPs will share ministers between the churches, and again, it is important that there is a common understanding of who will do what.
 
A commitment to sharing pastoral responsibility could be an indication of how the LEP intends to go beyond the conventional agenda of a more informal Churches Together group – you might like to think about this could apply in your situation.
 
What will happen when a minister from one of the churches leaves? How will you ensure that the new minister appointed continues to support and develop the Partnership? Different churches appoint ministers in different ways, but it is a good idea to include an element of consultation in your constitution, and a commitment to appoint ministers who will seek to develop the partnership ecumenically. Remember, if you do experience difficulties down the line, the constitution will be there to remind you of your ecumenical vision and commitment to each other.
  1. Worship
Things to think about here include how often you intend to worship together as an LEP.
 
It would also be good to explore at this stage what is permitted within joint worship services – often more things are possible than local churches recognise! Ecumenical Officers, among others, are always ready to advise and try to answer questions on how opportunities for joint worship may be developed.
  1. Decision-Making
How will joint decisions be made for the LEP? The model constitution suggests a ‘Partnership Enabling Group’ is formed, which comprises representatives of all the participating churches.
 
Whether you choose to follow this model, or another, think about how big the decision-making group should be – 1 or 2 representatives from each church? What about clergy – should they have ex officio places? 
 
What decisions will the group be able to make, and what should be referred back to the churches’ own decision-making bodies? Different churches make decisions in different ways – some churches will be used to small groups making a majority of decisions, others will find it odd if the whole membership is not consulted on a regular basis. 
  1. Premises
 Some congregations will have their own church buildings, others may make use of community buildings such as halls and schools. Think about how your use of buildings could indicate your commitment towards one another – for example by including a commitment to consult one another before considering building projects.
  1. Ongoing Development
How can other churches in the area join the LEP?
How, and how often, shall the life of the LEP be reviewed?
Who has the authority to amend the constitution?
If things don’t work out, how can the LEP be terminated?
 

Model Constitution (a worked example, not a template to be followed in every case)

 
In response to this agenda, the Constitution of a Congregations in Covenanted Partnership LEP could look like this: 
  1. Practicalities
The Local Ecumenical Partnership shall be known as Churches Together in Praisetown. The partner churches are:
  • New Testament Assembly, Praisetown
  • Our Lady & St Thomas Parish Church (Roman Catholic)
  • Praisetown United Reformed Church
  • Prayer Road Baptist Church
  • St Chad’s Parish Church (Church of England)
  • St John’s Parish Church (Church of England)
  • Salvation Army Corps, Praisetown
  • Wesley Methodist Church
  • St Mary’s Parish Church, Praisetown (Church of England)
  • Zion Methodist Church, West Praisetown
  • St Hilda’s Parish Church (Church of England), Praisedale
  • St Hugh’s Parish Church (Church of England), Little Praises on the Water
The Partnership looks for support, encouragement, advice and overview to Churches Together in CountySomewhere. 
  1. Christian Initiation
EITHER
The partner churches shall continue to follow their own practice with regard to baptism, confirmation and church membership. There shall be joint preparation for Christian initiation.
 
OR
The partner churches shall continue to follow their own practice with regard to baptism. There shall be joint Confirmation and Reception into Church Membership among those partner churches whose parent bodies permit this to happen jointly. There shall be joint preparation for Christian initiation, and this preparation shall include specific denominational instruction. There shall be a joint service at which Confirmation and Reception into Church Membership takes place, using a rite authorised by the partner denominations through Churches Together in CountySomewhere. 
  1. Ministry
Pastoral responsibility for the churches and the communities which they serve shall be exercised by the partner churches collectively. The ordained ministers shall exercise within this collective ministry the specific roles to which they have been appointed. 
 
All those appointed by the partner denominations to minister in the partner churches shall meet together regularly for prayer, fellowship and discussion of matters related to the exercise of their ministry.
 
Denominational procedures shall be followed in the appointment of ministers. Those responsible for the appointment of ministers shall seek to select persons who will respect, support and develop the Partnership and the ecumenical nature of the appointment shall be clearly indicated in any ‘job description’.
 
When a ministerial vacancy occurs, or a new ministerial appointment is in view, there shall be ecumenical consultation. It shall be the aim of those responsible for the appointment of ministers that the ecumenical consultation shall include
  • the involvement of representatives of other partner churches in the procedures of the appointing denomination as far as is possible and permitted;
  • the opportunity for existing ministers to meet with prospective candidates and to pass on their opinions to those responsible for making the appointment;
  • the involvement of a representative from Churches Together in CountySomewhere.
Ministers shall be subject to the normal discipline of the denomination to which each belongs.
 
Children's work, young people's work, training, education and formation, involvement with schools, marriage preparation, hospital visiting, pastoral care for homes for the elderly and other institutions within the communities, community outreach and bereavement counselling shall all be planned and undertaken jointly. A partner church shall not act individually in any of the areas of ministry listed above unless there are compelling reasons to do so and that church has, in advance, explained those reasons to appropriate representatives of the other partner churches. 
  1. Worship
The partner churches shall continue to follow their own practice with regard to worship. The members and ministers of all of the partner churches shall be welcome to attend worship in all of the partner churches and shall be encouraged to take part in worship in all of the ways permitted by the parent denominations. There shall be regular opportunities for joint worship and prayer for each other. 
  1. Decision-Making
The partner churches shall continue to follow their own practice with regard to decision-making processes.
 
Each partner church shall invite representatives of the other partner churches to attend meetings of its decision-making body as observers.
 
To facilitate joint decision-making and the sharing of information between the partner churches there shall be a Partnership Enabling Group. The membership of the Partnership Enabling Group shall be:
  • All those appointed by the parent denominations to minister in the partner churches.
  • Two other representatives of each of the partner churches. These people shall be elected or appointed by the partner churches in whatever way those churches choose and, if not already members of the decision-making bodies of their respective churches, shall be enabled to become members of those bodies at the earliest opportunity.
The Partnership Enabling Group shall meet at least four times a year, one of these meetings being an Annual General Meeting. 
  • Members of all of the partner churches may attend the Annual General Meeting,
  • Reports on the life and progress of the Partnership shall be given at the Annual General Meeting and financial accounts shall be presented.
  • The Annual General Meeting shall elect the Chairperson of the Partnership Enabling Group, who shall serve for two years, a Secretary, Treasurer and other officers, as appropriate.
The Partnership Enabling Group shall agree a budget each year for meeting the administrative costs of the Partnership and for other purposes which have been agreed by the Partnership Enabling Group. The money shall be raised by a levy on the partner churches.

The Partnership Enabling Group may set up sub-committees, working parties or other groups to carry out specific tasks. 
  1. Buildings
The partner churches shall continue to use, maintain and develop the buildings for which they already have responsibility.
 
Any partner church considering a change of use of its buildings, items of maintenance involving expense in excess of £5000, or the construction of new buildings, shall, before putting the work in hand, share its proposals with the other partner churches.
 
Every effort shall be made to share the use of buildings and to enter into agreements, formal or informal, to do so. 
  1. Ongoing Development
Other churches within the area may negotiate for participation in the Partnership at any time. Churches seeking to enter into the Partnership must have the approval of the Partnership Enabling Group, Churches Together in Somewhere and their own denominational authorities.
 
Churches Together in Somewhere shall ensure that every seven years the Partnership shall be reviewed with reference to its Covenant and this constitution.
 
The Partnership may only be terminated with the approval of Churches Together in Somewhere and the denominational authorities. A partner church may only withdraw from the Partnership with the approval of its own denominational authorities and Churches Together in Somewhere.
 
This constitution, and the Covenant, may only be amended by the Partnership Enabling Group. No amendment shall take effect until it has been approved by all of the partner churches and Churches Together in CountySomewhere.

Remember to add a date to all your documents, draft or final, and add a note to say where and when the final document was approved.
 


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