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World Methodists approve further ecumenical dialogue

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A UMNS photo by Joan LaBarr

Geoffrey Wainwright (left) and Robert Gribben (right) listen to Father Donald Bolen address the World Methodist Council.
July 20, 2006

By Joan G. LaBarr*

SEOUL, South Korea (UMNS) — World Methodists have unanimously approved a resolution authorizing further dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, with the stated aim of “full communion in faith, mission and sacramental life.”

The resolution was adopted when the World Methodist Council’s 500-member governing body met July 18-19 in historic Chung Dong First Methodist Church in Seoul, the first Protestant church established on Korean soil.

Members also passed a resolution authorizing the association of the council and its member churches with the agreement on the Doctrine of Justification approved by the Lutheran World Foundation and the Catholic Church on October 31, 1999.

Continuing dialogue between the council and the Salvation Army, first initiated in Brighton, England, in 2001, also was approved.

The Rev. Geoffrey Wainwright, the council’s coordinator of ecumenical dialogues, introduced the proposal for authorization to continue conversations with the Roman Catholics, noting it is the body’s longest-running dialogue, dating back to 1966.

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Bishop William B. Oden
Commenting in an interview, United Methodist Bishop William B. Oden, ecumenical officer for the denomination’s Council of Bishops, said there have been eight prior rounds of talks, each of which probed more deeply into issues that divide Catholics and Methodists.

Exchanging ideas

Characterizing the aims of the ecumenical conversations as “dialogues of truth” and “dialogues of love,” Wainwright said these expressions were made by Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical letter, “Ut unum Sint” (“That They May be One”). In the encyclical, Pope John Paul used the terms the “exchange of ideas” and “the exchange of gifts,” terms reflected in the Seoul report titled, “The Grace Given You in Christ.”

Wainwright indicated that the report pursues the exchange of ideas to lay a solid foundation for an exchange of gifts.

“The report shows a ?very considerable’ or ?extensive’ agreement between the partners on the doctrine of the Church; and then moves on to ?the concrete reality of one another,’” he explained.

Quoting the report, Wainwright said, “It is time?to look one another in the eye, and with love and esteem to acknowledge what we see to be truly of Christ and of the Gospel, and thereby of the church, in one another.”

The report concludes with practical proposals that:
  • Make more evident the shared belief between Catholics and Methodists about the nature and mission of the church.
  • Base these actions on what Catholics and Methodists already recognize in one another as being truly of the church.
  • Are “for the sake of the mutual exchange of ecclesial gifts and endowments between Catholics and Methodists.”

Papal audience

Wainwright described the 2005 special audience that World Methodist Conference leaders had with Pope Benedict, which included privileged places at the papal Mass in St. Peter’s for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

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Bishop Walter Klaiber
The Methodist delegation spent a week under the care of Cardinal Walter Kasper and the Rev. Donald Bolen and their associates at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The group included Oden; Wainwright; His Eminence Sunday Mbang of Nigeria, council chairman; the Rev. George Freeman, the council’s chief executive; United Methodist Bishop Walter Klaiber of Germany; and Gillian Kingston of Britain.

The discussions led to informal ideas about the possibility of establishing a “pastoral commission” to stimulate practical relations between Methodists and Catholics in different parts of the world, according to Wainwright.

Oden expressed hope that the issues raised would be studied and debated at the local church and annual conference levels, in order to get widespread reception.

“Dialogues will go no place if kept at leadership levels,” he said. He added that the council’s actions could produce more local church conversations between the two denominations.

The decision authorizing the World Methodist Council and member churches to sign an official common affirmation of the Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification also generated widespread affirmation. Wainwright and Klaiber drafted a Methodist statement, working in consultation with Lutheran and Catholic groups and the council’s executive committee.

*LaBarr is manager of the World Methodist Conference newsroom in Seoul, South Korea, and director of communications for the United Methodist Church’s North Texas Annual Conference.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or

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