By Scott Lenoir, Editor of The Mississippi Episcopalian
There wasn't a seat left at St. Peter's by-the-Sea/Gulfport as Episcopalians and Methodists, both clergy
|Fourth from the Left, MS Annual Conference Bishop James Swanson.|
and lay, gathered to celebrate the Feast Day of John and Charles Wesley. The observance was co-hosted by First United Methodist in Gulfport. This annual event has been observed throughout the diocese since 2009 with services in Jackson, Meridian, Oxford and Natchez.
Bishop James E. Swanson, the new resident bishop for the Mississippi Area of the United Methodist Church, was the preacher for the March 3rd service. Swanson's remarks, laced with humor and a spirited preaching style, recalled how John Wesley took the Gospel message out of the church into the world with field preaching. The bishop encouraged those gathered to do the same--to bring Christianity from the worship space and into the world. "We need to hear the good news in the world where we live in," said the bishop to the crowd of about 500 people.
In 2005, the United Methodist Church approved a scholarly agreement called "Joint Interim Eucharistic Sharing." The agreement was later approved by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2006 and is the foundation of the Mississippi covenant. This Eucharistic sharing is an outgrowth of the Covenant of Common Life that was signed in 2009 between Bishop Duncan Gray, III and Methodist Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, Swanson's predecessor.
"Our service tonight was another way to deepen the relationship between our denominations, and between these two bishops themselves. It is part of the process which works toward achieving full communion with each other," said the Rev. Patrick Skutch, rector of Christ Church/Bay St. Louis and the ecumenical officer for the Diocese of Mississippi.
Bishop Gray took a few moments to reflect on the history of the long relationship which developed between the Methodist, Episcopal and Roman Catholic bishops that began in the 1960s civil rights era. Regular meetings of the bishops have been ongoing ever since.
The Covenant of Common Life, signed in 2009, set out a terms for a deeper shared ministry between the Methodist and Episcopal bishops in Mississippi and calls for congregations and clergy in both denominations to search for ways to form partnerships and carry out joint programming in outreach, religious education, evangelism and sharing of facilities.
Gray noted the Rev. Margaret Ayers who is now the pastor of the United Methodist Church in Port Gibson and vicar of St. James' Episcopal Church.
"I like to think this is a foretaste of the Kingdom," said Gray after the service in Gulfport, "sharing our mutual life in Christ with each other and yet maintaining our unique identities."
To learn more about the historic agreement between Mississippi Episcopalians and Methodists, log on to www.dioms.org and click on "Covenant of Common Life."