By Woody Woodrick
Christians talk about being one body, yet often their organizations work independently of one another. This can lead to duplication of effort and less effective ministry.
Bishops of the United Methodist and Episcopal churches in Mississippi hope a special service scheduled for March 3 will be a big step toward more unity among believers. Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of the Mississippi Conference and Bishop Duncan Gray III of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi plan to sign “A Covenant for Common Life.” The goal is to develop more cooperation among their churches.
“It is a next step following the service of shared communion at Annual Conference in 2007. It is our hope to strengthen the connection between the Episcopal and United Methodist churches in Mississippi,” Ward said.
In 2007, Gray and other Episcopal clergy came to the UM Annual Conference in Jackson and took part in a joint communion service. It is part of a larger effort to find common ground and ministry between the denominations.
Gray and Ward already have a close working relationship, particularly through Congregations for Children, which advocates in the state Legislature for children. Congregations for Children is supported by the United Methodist, Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches in Mississippi.
“What we’re doing is asking the churches that co-exist in different towns and cities to establish partnerships in things they see as common mission,” said the Rev. Joey Shelton, senior pastor of Galloway Memorial UMC in Jackson. “The agreement sets out certain articles, and churches are asked to see which ones pertain to your situation and to be in intentional dialogue with sister congregations.”
Shelton is helping plan the worship service, which is set for 7:30 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in downtown Jackson.
Shelton said the covenant brings to mind two verses from Ecclesiastes. The first comes from chapter 4, verse 9: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work.” The second is Ecclesiastes 4:12, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
“The idea is that we are joined in the triune God, so in that sense we are part of the same cord, but have distinctive characteristics,” he said. “Our commons purpose is the salvation for humanity.”
Galloway UMC and St. Andrew’s Cathedral are only about two blocks apart, separated by Smith Park and the Governor’ Mansion. Shelton pointed to the potential of the two churches becoming partners as one of the goals of the covenant.
“With our Grace Place ministry to the homeless, our primary strength is the ability to offer respite,” Shelton said. “But we can’t do everything that the people of Smith Park need. So, let’s be in dialogue with St. Andrew’s about what is their passion for the homeless in Smith Park.
“We have the opportunity to see how we can all engage this common problem and not duplicate services but strengthen them together.”
The covenant event begins at 5 p.m. March 3 with rehearsal for clergy from both denominations at the cathedral. A meal at Galloway follows at 6 p.m. All United Methodist clergy are encouraged to attend and take part in the service. The clergy will process, in their vestments, from Galloway to St. Andrew’s for a 7:30 p.m. worship service.
To make reservations for the meal preceding the Covenant for Common Life service March 3, visit www.mississippi-umc.org/celebration. Cost of the 6 p.m. meal, to be served at Galloway Memorial UMC, is $7.Deadline for reservations is Feb. 23.