The "Local Church," as understood within the Anglican Communion, is the Church gathered around its bishop; thus it is understood as the diocese with its congregations and other ministries as a whole. "Local" in this sense connotes the church unified by the presence of its bishop rather than by its small radius of space. We recognize that this usage poses questions, since it runs contrary to a common understanding of the word as well as to the polity of Protestant church bodies.
This understanding is a fundamental gift, which the Anglican heritage has to offer to the life of the universal Church, and hence we are committed to maintaining it. Most Christian people live out their faithful witness as members of the Body of Christ in a congregation, and so the congregation inevitably dominates their consciousness of the Church as a tangible reality. But the local congregation is not complete by itself as a model of the Church, so there must be specific ways in which its relationship to the multiplicity of other congregations, ministries, and ecclesial units of the diocese--as well as ultimately to the wider church--finds expression and embodiment. This paradigm is part of our faithfulness to the Gospel.
Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer (DEIO)
The catechism of the Book of Common Prayer describes the ministry of the Bishop: "to represent Christ and his Church...to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church...to act in Christ's name for the reconciliation of the world..." The diocesan ecumenical officer is a primary resource for the Bishop seeking to carry out the ecumenical mandate given in the preface to the ordination rites: "the order of bishop carries on the apostolic work of leading, supervising, and uniting the Church." Close communication between the diocesan ecumenical officer and the bishop is essential. Bishops are also urged to appoint an associate ecumenical officer who is of another order, sex, racial, or ethnic group than the ecumenical officer.
Bishops were first asked to appoint diocesan ecumenical officers in the 1950's. From then until the organizing of the national association of Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical Officers (EDEO) in 1974, the officers identified their responsibilities in a wide variety of ways and moved ahead in work that seemed appropriate to each diocese that provided much useful experience.
After many years of experience within the EDEIO network and an increased sharing of resources and ideas across this Church, fresh understanding of the ecumenical officer's specific responsibilities has come into sharper focus:
1. Assist the Bishop and advise on ecumenical and interfaith matters. 2. Administer the diocesan ecumenical and interfaith commission/committee. 3. Seek out and strengthen relations with other churches within the diocese. 4. Maintain relations with councils of churches and other ecumenical agencies. 5. Insure that diocesan program and budget reflect ecumenical involvement where applicable. 6. Keep the diocese and its agencies informed on ecumenical developments through initiation of informative programs and consciousness-raising. 7. Be a resource for parishes, districts/deaneries, and other bodies within the diocese provide support for ecumenical developments in congregations. 8. Initiate and plan for responsible and effective participation in ecumenical events in the diocese. 9. Insure ecumenical dialogues between the "Local Church" and the Provincial Coordinator as representative of the EDEIO network.
In order that these responsibilities may be accomplished, each officer should strive to:
1. Be a student of ecumenism. 2. Grow in prayer and worship. 3. Be aware of ecumenical relations within Anglicanism. 4. Be sensitive to different levels of ecumenical commitment of the people. 5. Proclaim in personal life and action the unity of the Body of Christ. 6. Develop strong personal relations with people representative of other denominations.
Diocesan Ecumenical Commission
In order to carry out effectively her or his responsibilities, the ecumenical officer will need the direct assistance of others in the diocese. The formation of an ecumenical commission or committee will greatly aid the work of the officer. It should be an official body of the diocese with a line-item in the diocesan budget.
Membership of the commission should, ideally, be representative of geographical areas of the diocese, differing theological positions, ethnic groups or minorities, and others as appropriate to the unique makeup of the diocese. It is of strategic importance that through the membership of the commission/committee or by assigned responsibility within the commission/committee there be links with diocesan ministries involving education, social outreach, renewal, mission, etc., as well as the Episcopal Church Women's representatives, religious orders, chaplaincies, specialized ministries and all other ministries relating to the mission of the Church.
Consulting members, when possible, should be added to the commission/committee from such bodies as councils of churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Roman Catholic Church and other church bodies in dialogue with the Episcopal Church.
Each diocesan commission/committee will have its own set of priorities, goals, and programs. Key areas that should not be neglected would include:
Identification and celebration of existing ecumenical relationships and concerns in the Diocese, including: a. Special inter-parochial relationships and activities b. Community service coalitions c. Councils of churches and ministerial associations 2. Survey of opportunities for expansion of the above. 3. Focus of spiritual ecumenism. 4. Dialogues with other traditions, and encouragement of other diocesan officers to become closely familiar and cooperative with their counterparts in parallel church bodies. 5. Creation, encouragement, and continuing evaluation of joint ecumenical action at the judicatory level, with espousal of the Lund Principle. "Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, And in the spirit of the "Lund Principle" approved by our church's delegates and others attending the World Conference on Faith and Order in 1952 and affirmed by the 1968 Lambeth Conference, that the Episcopal Church at every level of its life be urged to act together and in concert with other churches of Jesus Christ in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction or church order compel us to act separately; … (1976-A034)"
6. Education for ecumenism.
The resources of EDEIO and the national Ecumenical Office are available to the diocesan ecumenical officer and commission as they carry out these tasks.
The budget of the commission should provide for particular program goals, travel and office expenses for the ecumenical officer, and the cost of sending at least one and preferably two representatives to the Annual Meeting of EDEIO, held in conjunction with the National Workshop on Christian Unity.
Improving Ecumenical Communication
Communication is the prelude to commitment. If the Episcopal Church is to generate and expand ecumenical interest and involvement, it must break down or circumvent the various barriers within this Church which hinder understanding of the ecumenical gift and task. The coordination of effort among the various structural units--local congregations, diocesan offices, Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers (EDEIO), and the national Ecumenical Office--of our Church is important. It is evident that large numbers of our communicants are "living ecumenically" in their families and communities. Communication must take account of the favorable and unfavorable environmental conditions in which our people live.
Communication is not a one-way process flowing from the top down. Mutual influence between the local church (the diocese with its congregations and other ministries) and the national Ecumenical Office, and beyond, depends upon such intermediate agents as EDEIO. We both seek and offer to incorporate the ecumenical vision into every aspect of the life of the Episcopal Church, on the basis of the principle that "we act together and in concert with other churches of Jesus Christ in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction or church order compel us to act separately."
Our suggested strategy is not designed to be a "program" in the sense of a structured educational or action model. Rather, our intent is to try to make ecumenism an integral part of the experience of the life of the Church in all its many facets. Our communication model, therefore, will try to promote a "communion of Communions" as both a relational and an educational experience. One example of Christians growing in relation to each other is "spiritual ecumenism," which the Book of Common Prayer fosters by reminding us that the Church is the family of all baptized Christians, and by providing in every Eucharist a celebration of the unity which Christ gives to the universal Church.
Strategy for a Network in the Local Church
Recognizing that the association of Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical Officers is the basic two-way channel of communication between the diocese and the national Ecumenical Office, we believe the time has come to extend this communication network to the congregations. The following is a possible model which could be adapted to suit the needs and opportunities found in any particular diocese.
1. The dioceses, or clusters of dioceses, could convene a consultation of representative parishes and missions for the purpose of listening to the people from the parishes to discover their ecumenical agenda, identifying problems and opportunities, and determining what information is needed.
2. The ecumenical commission of each diocese could include an associate ecumenical officer specifically responsible for a variety of communication services with parishes and for adapting technical ecumenical information received from all sources for popular publication in diocesan newspapers and other currently available local media.
3. Each congregation could designate one person (a Parish Ecumenical Representative) to be specially responsible for communication with the associate ecumenical officer and to assist in the distribution of information received, communicate the ecumenical problems or opportunities to the diocesan ecumenical commission, and serve as an ecumenical advocate within the local area.
4. Clergy conferences might be held in each diocese to lift up the responsibility of the priest working in unity with the bishop to carry out their mutual ministry to promote the unity of the Church as stated in An Outline of the Faith: commonly called the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 855-56).
5. The association of Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical Officers is encouraged to conduct a training workshop for ecumenical officers, which would receive data from the diocesan consultations and provide training for the translation and exchange of information between various elements of the system.
6. Each ecumenical officer needs to meet frequently with counterparts in other churches to develop an approach for local ecumenical involvement. The parish contact person should also meet regularly with counterparts in other congregations to facilitate ecumenical initiatives.
Dioceses should regularly review and evaluate this whole process and report to their annual conventions.
(Note: Section C on the Diocesan Church was prepared by the National Consultation on Ecumenism in the Local Church, 1982)