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May 10, 2000 GC-049

Unity is possible, says Archbishop of Canterbury

CLEVELAND (UMNS) -- While the vision of one, great Church may be unachievable, a different type of unity is possible among the world’s Christians, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

"I abandoned a long time ago a theology of unity that assumes it means uniformity and sameness," the Most Rev. George Carey told the United Methodist General Conference during a May 10 ecumenical worship service. "Human nature cannot accept that."

His sermon was a first for the denomination’s top legislative body, which had never before been addressed by an Archbishop of Canterbury. In his introduction, Bishop William Oden spoke of Carey’s love for Methodism and the Wesleyan tradition and noted that his visit came at a time when an international dialogue between the Anglican and Methodist communions had concluded and a dialogue between the United Methodists and Episcopal Church USA was to begin.

Pointing out that New Testament scholars now consider diversity to be key to studying the origins of the faith, Carey talked about what he termed an "ecology of unity," as the word ecology refers to a variety of living organisms living together and contributing to one another’s welfare."

All great religious traditions accept expressions of diversity. In the Anglican tradition, for example, theological and liturgical tastes may range from conducting the Eucharist in the catholic tradition to allowing a fluidity of expression in a charismatic "low church" setting. "In other words, high and hazy or low and lazy," he quipped.

But, Carey added to applause, he doesn’t like it when "one part of the family believes that they hold the truth and nobody else does."

Ecological unity, the archbishop said, "may encourage us to move in stages toward whatever final form of unity God may have in store for us." The first stage – which has been achieved in some theological conversations, such as the recent Lutheran/Anglican talks – is to recognize that the churches stand in continuity with apostolic faith. "The next step beyond that is, of course, to recognize one another’s ministries as authentic and apostolic ministries," he added.

Such a staged approach is part of the formal Anglican-Methodist talks recently started in Great Britain. The archbishop noted that 30 years ago the two churches "were within a whisker of establishing full, visible unity" but lacked an affirming vote from the Anglicans.

"It is my strong hope that over the next few years a solid foundation for unity between our churches will develop into a visible unity achieved by measurable stages," Carey said. He also encouraged the United Methodist-Episcopal dialogue.

Ecological unity also refers to the concept of mission because it concerns the well being of the whole. "I have observed on many visits to the overseas church that the best demonstrations of unity have been in prophetic situations of witness when churches have stood together for people and for the gospel," he added, naming South African, the Sudan and Northern Ireland as examples. But he observed that old divisions seem to return when a common enemy is overcome.

"I believe we must transcend our concern for the survival of the church and start to focus our concern upon the Kingdom of God and its centrality to church and society," the archbishop said, calling for Christians to do evangelism, ministry, social concern and theological exploration together.

After the worship service, ecumenical visitors representing the African Methodist Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, Presbyterian, Nazarene, Christian Methodist Episcopal, Orthodox, Wesleyan, Greek Orthodox, United Church of Christ and Episcopal churches were introduced. Representatives of the National Council of Churches, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Consultation on Church Union, International Council of Community of Churches and World Council of Churches also were welcomed.

The Rev. Robert Edgar, a United Methodist pastor who now leads the National Council of Churches, spoke briefly and invited General Conference participants to "join hands in prayer and commitment for what we can do together."

The Council of Bishops recognized two ecumenical leaders of the United Methodist Church for their individual commitment. They were Jan Love of Columbia, S.C., a lay woman who has represented the denomination at the World Council of Churches for more than 20 years, and the Rev. Kathryn Bannister, a Kansas pastor currently serving as one of the WCC’s presidents.

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-- Linda Bloom

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