Friday, 8 April 2011

What is a Local Ecumenical Partnership?

God's reminderImage by Windsors Child via Flickr
OK, I know what you're thinking ...  not more technical stuff!  I'll go onto something else next week, I promise.  It might seem odd to ask the question 'What is a LEP?' after describing the documenting of them and how to amend their constitutions.

After hundreds of years of separate development, it should not be a surprise that the various traditions have incompatible structures.  This is not merely a question of their organisational structures but it is also to do with their ecclesiologies.  Ecclesiology is perhaps the main thing that divides the churches and it is about how they understand authority.  So, for the Church of England authority is exercised through the Bishops, sometimes called personal episcope.  The Methodist Church's authority is through Methodist Conference and so its episcope is communal.  Some (eg Baptists and Ref ormed)churches are congregational and so their episcope is exercised through their local church meetings.

You don't have to be a genius to see these different church structures are (a) incompatible, and (b) based on radically different understandings of authority.  LEPs enable churches with radically different understandings of episcope to work together. 

Every LEP is a covenant between the participating traditions but not every covenant is a LEP.  There are arrangements called local covenants.  These are informal agreements between churches in a local area.  They don't include the church authorities and some seem to work quite well.  The problem is they are not recognised by the church authorities and so are likely to be ignored; they are particularly vulnerable when the ministers change and local arrangements are not recognised.

So, it is worth considering a LEP when local churches want to commit to long term collaboration over mission, worship, formation or pastoral care. 

There is another advantage to becoming a LEP.  Not only do the participating church authorities approve the LEP, but also the local sponsoring body.  The sponsoring body is usually the same as the Intermediate or County body.  Why does it give approval?  Because the agreement to form a LEP, whilst it is between the partners, is made in the presence of the other traditions in the area.  It is not a private but a public arrangement that involves all the member churches of the sponsoring body.

LEPs are reviewed every 7 years (more or less) and that review is carried out by the sponsoring body and will involve people from traditions other than those who are participating.  This allows for a degree of accountability but perhaps it is better thought of as additional support.
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