The Roman Catholic-United Church Dialogue in Canada *

By Piche, Angelika | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

The Roman Catholic-United Church Dialogue in Canada *


Piche, Angelika, Journal of Ecumenical Studies


I. Introduction

Presuming that most J.E.S. readers have some knowledge of the Roman Catholic Church, I will begin with a short discussion of the United Church of Canada, followed by a history of the dialogue group. The United Church of Canada came into being through a church union in 1925 among Methodists, Congregationalists, and parts of the Presbyterian Church, which made it the largest Protestant denomination in Canada. The United Church kept a self-understanding of being a "united and uniting" church. Some smaller church unions also happened after 1925 (for example, with the Evangelical United Brethren). The church stands theologically in the Reformed tradition, has a strong social commitment, and is usually on the "liberal" side of the range of viewpoints on current ethical questions.

In August, 1974, the General Council of the United Church of Canada passed a resolution that invited the Roman Catholic Church in Canada to enter into conversations concerning Christian unity. The following month, the Plenary Assembly of the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops responded positively to the invitation. In November, 1975, the first dialogue meeting took place, which means that the dialogue has now been meeting for nearly thirty years.

Each of the two churches designates six delegates to the dialogue, including one national staff person. The representatives come from different areas of Canada and include men and women, lay and clergy, francophone and anglophone. There has always been an effort to work bilingually in order to take into account the different cultural realities in our Canadian context within both churches. The Anglican Church sends an observer to the meetings (which is an interesting practice to make bilateral conversations transparent for other partner churches).

The dialogue group meets twice a year for two or three days. As we gather for several days, this allows for intense theological work, for common prayer time, and for social events and the building of personal friendships. Integrating these different dimensions of intellectual, spiritual, and social sharing is an important part of the dynamic of our dialogue.

II. Mandate for and Content of the Dialogue's Work

The group gave itself a mandate in its earlier stages that reads as follows:

 
   Within the larger setting of the search for unity among Christians, 
   the dialogue group seeks to increase understanding and appreciation 
   between the Roman Catholic and the United Church of Canada. It 
   explores pastoral, theological and ethical issues, including those 
   which may divide our churches. Participants in the dialogue group 
   expect to learn from and be challenged by one another and commit 
   themselves to countering misinformation, stereotypes and prejudices 
   that may influence the members of our churches. 

I want to highlight two points in the self-understanding of the group. First, the group is open to dealing with a wide range of issues related to church life, of a pastoral, theological, and ethical nature. While the issues it chooses "may divide our churches," the idea is not only to discuss divisive topics but also to find and to work on the common ground. Second, the dialogue members commit themselves to become advocates within their own church for better understanding of the partner church, "to countering misinformation, stereotypes and prejudices." Thus, the concern to bring back the fruits of the dialogue encounter into one's own denomination has been present from the beginning. In the description of the activities of the group is also included that it not only reports back to the sponsoring bodies but that it also seeks ways to communicate its findings to the members of both churches. This has been realized through the writing of several common statements.

There has also been a practice of meeting with a local group involved in ecumenical activities for one evening and to share with them around the current theme. …

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