Thursday, 3 February 2011

Unity in Oversight

At a recent meeting of National Ecumenical Officers, a number of theological issues engaging ecumenical conversations were highlighted.  In this and two further posts I will outline these issues.  These are currently live issues, which means they have not been resolved.  So, any comments you make will be passed to relevant people for their consideration.

The issue of shared episcope has been on everyone's agendas for many years.  The Anglican Roman Catholic conversations (ARCIC) have come up with the term 'unity in oversight' which at least dispenses with the Greek!  Oversight is the term used by the churches to describe how authority is exercised within the traditions.  So, in episcopal churches, oversight is exercised through the Bishops, whilst in connexional churches it is exercised through Conference (illustrated).

If accountability is one end of a spectrum; is the other end complete independence? There is a need to identify the different points on the spectrum of the ways in which churches relate to each other.

So, what do we mean by 'unity in oversight'?  Basically, it is concerned with common decision making that remains true to faith in the current age.  This applies equally to churches with a strong liturgical tradition and those with a mission agenda.

In formal bilateral and multilateral conversations, difficulties are often encountered because those involved are shaky about how decisions are made in their own traditions.  Sometimes, where issues such as sexuality challenge internal cohesion, further difficulties are experienced between traditions.  Where there are tensions within a particular tradition, it can become difficult to address matters to do with the historic episcope (where the authority of Bishops is traced back to the original apostles) because there is no agreed framework on which discussions can be based.

Some people have suggested a change of emphasis from the idea of 'full visible unity' to 'full visible communion'.  This is a change from organisational to organic unity. Problems are encountered when these are confused.

It would be good to hear your views on unity in oversight, particularly where it impacts upon relationships between local churches. 
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