The Old Catholic bishops of the Union of Utrecht met for their annual meeting from 27th June to 3rd July 2004 in Wislikofen/CH. Business was conducted in a calm and relaxed atmosphere. This year Bishop Fernando Soares of the Lusitanian Catholic Apostolic Evangelical Church in Portugal, as well as Bishop Mike Klusmeyer and Dr. Tom Ferguson from the Episcopal Church of the USA were welcomed as guests.
During the conference the bishops dealt with the key theme of the ‘Role, Function and Identity of Old Catholic Clergy in relation to a secular society’. The introductory paper was presented by F. M. Grünewald, lecturer and head of the practical-theological course of the Department of Evangelical Theology at the University of Berne. Bishop Joachim Vobbe (D) delivered the co-paper. He dealt, above all, with the changing expectations placed on clergy in today’s society and how they go about coping with such expectations. A further topic was also how clergy understand and exercise their own ministry and in what ways one could better prepare future clergy during their training for the ministry they will take on.
There was a short discussion with regards to the departure of the Polish National Catholic Church from the Union of Utrecht, as well as to further contact with this church. The parish of Toronto, which belongs to the Canadian Diocese of the PNCC and wishes to leave this church, has applied for membership of the Union of Utrecht. It was decided that the parish would be placed under the direct jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Utrecht until further discussions have taken place.
Much time was devoted to contacts with other churches. Bishop Soares informed the Conference about the life, history, and social projects of the Lusitanian Church in Portugal.
Time was given to discussing the possibilities for future co-operation with the two guests from the Episcopal Church, which like all Anglican churches stands in full communion with the Union of Utrecht. It was agreed to intensify co-operation especially with regards to dealing with the increasing number of applications from communities in the USA, who call themselves Old Catholic and who wish to join the Union of Utrecht. As it is not always easy to gain a clear overview of the religious situation in the USA, the Old Catholic churches are aware that they depend on the reliable information of their sister church when dealing with such applications. Regular participation in Episcopal consecrations is also foreseen.
There was also an in-depth discussion on the work of the Anglican-Old Catholic International Co-ordinating Council. The mandate of this council, which is responsible for co-ordinating the concrete implementation of the ecclesial communion between the two churches, is about to expire. Following the evaluation of the work of the last six years and the formulation of further concrete goals it is to be expected that this mandate will be extended.
Spurred on by the good contacts which have developed over recent years, the Bishops’ Conference took the initiative to begin theological talks with the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden. The initial aim of such talks would be to exchange information on specific themes. There is not yet talk of an official dialogue between the two churches but rather the desire for preliminary discussions which could lead to such a dialogue.
The Bishops’ Conference also deliberated on a number of important ecumenical documents. Things have been set into motion to establish an Old Catholic position on the study document of the WCC Faith and Order Commission entitled ‚The essence and understanding of the Church’. It was also agreed to work on a response to the Papal Encyclical Ut Unum sint.
Furthermore an ecumenical directory is to be produced which should serve to guide talks with other churches in the future.
The next meeting of the IBC is to held in the Netherlands from 19th to 25th June 2005.
Amersfoort and Berne, 4th August 2004
Utrechter Union der Altkatholischen Kirchen | site design: Sync. Creatieve Producties