By Tiffany Vail
Associate Conference Minister for Communications
In response to an historic vote by the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, Conference leaders are encouraging local churches and all settings of the Massachusetts Conference to go "deeper together" with their Episcopal counterparts.
Last fall, the Episcopal Diocese Annual Meeting passed a resolution calling for a "Deeper Community, Service and Engagement" with "United Church of Christ Partners."
In this resolution, the Diocese urges all Western Massachusetts Episcopal churches to deepen their relationships with neighboring UCC churches, saying, "we suggest entering into a year of engagement in prayer, conversation and action that reflects the shared gifts of our respective denominations."
"To my knowledge, no other diocese has done this and taken such a stance," said Massachusetts Conference Minister and President the Rev. Dr. Jim Antal.
In response, Antal, the Conference Board of Directors and the Conference Task Force on Ecumenism & Interfaith Relations have issued a letter inviting all local churches in the Conference to "seize this time of tremendous openness and welcome between our two denominations. We invite you to respond to this outstretched hand extended in Christian love and appreciation by going deeper together in ways that are most natural for you and your local community."
"I feel a tremendous sense of hope that the holy work to which all are called – to heal the broken parts of our lives and the world – can be done together with our Episcopal siblings, not only throughout western Massachusetts but also across our entire state," Antal writes in the letter.
The relationship between the Diocese and Conference has been building for some time.
In May of 2017, clergy pairs from local UCC and Episcopal churches gathered in Longmeadow to explore and celebrate some of the naturally evolving community partnerships springing up between churches. (Story: Envy, Affection, Among UCC-Episcopal Clergy, June 5, 2017)
In February, 2016, The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas became the Missioner for Creation Care for both the Diocese and Conference, and Antal and Bullitt-Jonas have worked together on environmental advocacy and education. (Story: Conference to share Missioner for Creation Care with Western Mass. Episcopal Diocese, Feb. 24, 2016.)
"We see this resolution as an extension and encouragement to take our relationship further, perhaps to places of unity that celebrate both our shared gospel values and our prophetic particularities," Antal writes. "Surely the Holy Spirit is moving deeply through our two denominations, drawing us closer together in service to the Gospel teachings of Jesus Christ."
The call for exploring a closer relationship between the two denominations gives a glimpse of what the Together, As One planners have talked about in relation to the proposed new, unified conference with the Connecticut and Rhode Island conferences. That proposal calls for forming a new, nonprofit corporation of which the three state conferences are the voting members, but which also allows for nonvoting associate members who "want to align with and act in common cause with" the stated purpose of the new conference. (Find more information here.)
Antal has suggested that the Diocese might be an example of an organization that would want to become an associate member in the future.
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