Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Documenting Local Ecumenical Partnerships

Model of the USS Constitution, c. 1910 - Old S...Image via Wikipedia
Yesterday, I wrote about technical ecumenism and this morning I will illustrate what I mean by looking at constitutions for Single Congregation Local Ecumenical Partnerships (SCLEPs). 

There are a number of types of LEP and the single congregation type is the most common.  It is where 2 or more congregations from different traditions worship together.  There are two reasons why these need regulation.  First, it is in styles of worship in particular where the traditions vary.  Different practices mean issues such as the authority of ordained ministry come into play and often there are legal constraints of various types.  Second, the intention has never been that LEPs should become new denominations; they are supposed to be of all the participating traditions.  Consequently, their governing documents need to be approved by all the participating traditions.

In recent years, the churches have simplified approval of constitutions.  The opportunity arose when new legislation required churches with a turnover in excess of £100 000 to register as charities.  Churches Together in England pulled together a model constitution.  As this is now standard for all churches, it means the approval of constitutions is much easier than it was a few years ago.

Some would argue the simplified approval process has been done at the expense of flexibility.  I don't believe this is true.  Churches have a lot of freedom under the new arrangements.  The difference is they are now encouraged to focus on what is distinctive, working within a simple standard framework.

So, let me illustrate this by listing the documents that go into a LEP constitution, their scope and degrees of flexibility.
  1. Foundational to any LEP, is the governing documents of the parent churches.  The LEP is not meant to supersede these and so they always underlie the other four documents.  Examples would be Methodist Standing Orders or the Church of England Canons.
  2. Every LEP needs an Ecumenical Vision Statement.  This used to be known as the Declaration of Intent and it is an opportunity for the participating local churches to tell the world why they intend to work together in a LEP.
  3. The Constitution is one of the main governing documents.  This is something new and is required by the Charity Commission. It governs the charity itself.  So, this document defines the Trustees and their responsibilities.
  4. The second main governing document is the Schedule.  This is also new and it governs the LEP.  So this section defines the participating churches and how they will collaborate over matters such as worship and ministry.
  5. Finally, any LEP is free to agree local guidelines.  So long as these do not contradict the constitution or schedule, and are approved by the Trustees, they can help the LEP determine how it manages its affairs from day to day.
Together these documents help us agree how we work together.

Information about how the Methodist Church approves LEP constitutions.
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