Growing Together in Unity and Mission
Building on 40 years of Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue
An Agreed Statement of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission
Growing Together in Unity and Mission is the most recent document to come from the forty-year conversation between the churches of the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Anglican Consultative Council published it jointly, in 2007.
It is a little book, just 64 pages long, and it only has two parts. It is, nevertheless, a remarkable work, because the two parts manage to coherently distill all the years of theological dialogue, and to offer practical and inspired suggestions for joint work at the parish level.
The first part explains, in simple language, where the two churches agree and disagree in the nine statements that have been issued by the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission. It doesn’t shy from presenting the disagreements, and uses breakout boxes to portray the areas that still need work. Nor are they hesitant to portray the incredible amount of agreement and commonality that exists.
It is the second section that is particularly valuable pastoral leaders and the people in our congregations. It contains about 20 excellent ideas - for joint witness in the world, for cooperating in ministry and study, and it has suggestions for joint liturgical practice, particularly around the sacrament of baptism.
Despite some differences in understanding of what it is to be ‘the Church,’ there exists between Anglicans/Episcopalians and Roman Catholics a common understanding of Baptism.
Here is what they recommend for joint services around the sacrament of baptism. It’s in the section called “Visible expressions of our shared faith:”
Given our mutual recognition of one another’s baptism, a number of practical initiatives are possible. Local churches may consider developing joint programs for the formation of families when they present children for baptism, as well as preparing common catechetical resources for baptism and confirmation preparation and in Sunday Schools. We suggest that our local parishes regularly make a public profession of faith together, perhaps by renewing baptismal promises at Pentecost every year. We invite local churches to use the same baptismal certificate, and, where necessary, to review and improve those currently in use…We encourage cooperation in faith renewal programs, which aim to help reclaim the baptismal commitment of people in the course of their adult life. (p. 51).
The authors are asking if we really appreciate the gift of our common baptism, and what could or should flow from recognizing and celebrating this. Furthermore, if this gift of a common baptism were applied coherently, what might come from it?
The thirteen pairs of Anglican/Episcopalian and Roman Catholic bishops who issued this book were offering visible and practical tools and strategies to help both churches in this present stage of real but imperfect communion. Aren’t we, at some important level, one church that is internally divided?
We can’t say when the churches will decide to emphasize their commonality instead of their differences, but baptism is an area in which Roman Catholics and Episcopalians could be doing much more together.
Is there anyone who doesn’t believe that a greater show of unity in diversity would not strengthen the mission of the whole church?
Editor’s note: Growing Together in Unity and Mission can be accessed online at vatican.va and used by adult study groups for local level dialogue and activity between Episcopalian/Anglican and Roman Catholic congregations.
Mary Reath is the author of Rome & Canterbury, The Elusive Search for Unity, and a member of the Anglican Roman Catholic dialogue in the U. S. (ARC/USA)