UMs and Episcopalians Celebrate Eucharistic Sharing Agreement


1.26 communion

By Melissa Lauber, The Baltimore-Washington Conference of The United Methodist Church, UM Connection Staff

The week of Christian Unity became real in tangible and spiritual ways on Jan. 25, at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. when Christ set the banquet table and the Rev. Canon Gina Campbell served Communion to the people of God in both the United Methodist and Episcopal churches.

Her actions in the sanctuary were hailed by leaders of both denominations as “historic” as she brought the Interim Eucharistic Sharing Agreement to life in a way that “significantly deepens the expression and practice of Christian unity,” said Bishop Marcus Matthews of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of The United Methodist Church.

“Rev. Campbell crosses boundaries as she brings this divine mystery and vehicle of grace to the people of the National Cathedral. With awe, humility and gratitude, we come to this common table, ready to encounter the living Christ,” Matthews said.

The Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, echoed Matthew’s sentiments, calling the agreement a “way station” along our common journey, and said it represents “a yearning and a hope” that might lead to full communion between the two faith traditions.

Campbell, an ordained Elder in the Southwest Texas Conference, serves as Canon Precentor, overseeing approximately 2,200 worship and devotional experiences each year at the cathedral. However, before the Interim Eucharistic Sharing Agreement, she was not permitted to preside over Communion.

“Gina has brought depth and skill to the crafting of Cathedral services,” said Cathedral Dean Gary Hall. “It is a gift to us that she will now be fully authorized to stand at the table as a full participant in liturgical leadership.”

Surrounded by the transcendent splendor of Gothic architecture, the beauty and simple elegance of the Christian symbols, a magnificent choir and rich liturgy, Campbell lifted up the bread and wine, prayed that all present might be led to “live as prayer” and spoke the ancient mysteries of the faith.

The effect of that holy experience, she hoped, was to help people “live their lives at a full stretch before God.” That idea of living full out, instead of in a “holy hunch or huddle,” was given to her by her former professor, the Rev. Don Saliers, of Emory University, who was present at the Jan. 25 service.

“It’s easy for a congregation or a person to live in holy hunch, constricted, with a caved-in posture. But stretching opens your heart, body and spirit. Stretching out before God creates a spaciousness of spirit through which the grace of God can move and that makes you different,” Campbell said,

“In the sharing of the Eucharist, two faiths are stretching toward a greater faithfulness. It just happens to be me that’s standing there,” Campbell said.

But the Rev. Kim Cape, General Secretary of the Commission on Higher Education and Ministry, who preached at the Communion service, said she believed it was not an accident that Campbell was the one who was able to take the lead in the Interim Eucharistic Sharing Agreement. She pointed out that the founder of Methodism John Wesley and his brother Charles had no intention of creating a new church, but simply wanted to reform the Church of England.

“You gave us two of your best voices,” she told the Episcopalians gathered. “Today we give you one of our best as well.”

Both Cape and Campbell, friends from their early days in the ordained ministry, acknowledge that there are differences between the two faiths: Episcopalians hold right-thinking in high esteem; United Methodists hold warmed hearts in high esteem, said Campbell.

“But those things that bind us together are stronger than those things that pull us apart. Sharing at the table is at the heart of who we are,” Cape said. She applauded those present for acting together to mend a long division. “As Episcopalians and United Methodists we remember who we’re kin to and celebrate our family tree and common roots in Christ.”

During her sermon from the Canterbury pulpit, Cape used the analogy of spokes on a wheel with God in the center. “When we move closer to one another, we’re moving closer to God, and when we move closer to God, we move closer to one another,” she said. “What we’re doing here today is drawing us closer to God and one another.”

Watch a video of the Jan. 25 worship and celebration of the Interim Eucharistic Sharing Agreement.