Guidelines and Protocols for Local Covenant Partnerships
(revised April 2006)
There are many forms of ecumenical co-operation within the spirit of the Covenant. The purpose of the Local Covenant Partnership (LCP) is to provide a framework in which many of these may be more fully realised. The vision of partnership needs to be “owned” by the participating congregations, and LCPs should not be entered into lightly, but only after careful preparation and on the basis of long-term commitment.
In light of this, the following informal Guidelines are presented to our Churches for consideration.
Throughout this document the word ministers is used to refer to those persons, both lay and ordained, who are collectively exercising ministry in an LCP. When references are specifically to those who are ordained, the word clergy is used.
The whole concept of the Local Covenant Partnership is still developing, and this publication should be regarded as advising on best practice at the time of publication. Any suggestions for changes should be sent to the Secretary of the Covenant Council.
The Basis for Local Covenant Partnership
Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the world has been reconciled to God, and in Jesus Christ unity has been offered to all people. Through him we are called into a new relationship with God and with one another as the children of God. It is a relationship inaugurated by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, appropriated by faith and baptism, nurtured and deepened through the ministry of word and sacrament, and expressed in a confession of the one faith and a common life of loving service.
Both Methodist and Church of Ireland people understand the mission of the Church to be (i) to proclaim the good news of the kingdom; (ii) to teach, baptise and nurture new believers; (iii) to respond to human need by loving service; (iv) to seek to transform unjust structures of society; (v) to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
Through the Covenant relationship, we have declared our readiness to commit ourselves to each other under God. Our earnest desire is to become more fully, in God’s own time, the one Church of Christ, united in faith, communion, pastoral care and mission. Such unity is the gift of God.
- We acknowledge one another’s churches as belonging to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ and as truly participating in the apostolic mission of the whole people of God.
- We acknowledge that in each of our churches the Word of God is authentically preached and the sacraments of baptism and holy communion authentically administered according to the command of Christ.
- We acknowledge that both our churches share in a common faith set forth in the scriptures and summarised in the historic creeds.
- We acknowledge our common inheritance in traditions of spirituality and liturgy .We rejoice in our diversity from which we may mutually benefit as we continue to develop varied forms of worship as appropriate to different situations.
- We acknowledge each other’s ordained ministries as given by God and as instruments of his grace by which our churches are served and built up. As pilgrims together, we look forward to the time when our ministries can be fully interchangeable and our churches visibly united.
- We acknowledge that personal, collegial and communal oversight is embodied and practised in both churches, as each seeks to express continuity of apostolic life, mission and ministry.
We believe that God is calling our two churches to a fuller relationship in which we commit ourselves
- to share a common life and mission.
- to grow together so that unity may be visibly realized.
As the next steps towards that goal, we agree:
1. to pray for and with one another and to avail of every opportunity to worship together
- to welcome one another’s members to receive Holy Communion and other ministries as appropriate
3 to share resources in order to strengthen the mission of the Church
4 to help our members to appreciate and draw out the gifts which each of our traditions
has to offer the whole people of God
- to encourage the invitation of authorised persons of each church to minister in the other church, as far as the current disciplines of both churches permit;
6 (a) to encourage united Methodist/Church of Ireland congregations
(i) where there are joint church schemes,
(ii) where new churches are to be planted,
(iii) where local congregations wish to move in this direction;
(b) to encourage united Methodist / Church of Ireland chaplaincy work;
7 to enable a measure of joint training of candidates for ordained and lay ministries of
our churches where possible and appropriate and to encourage mutual understanding
at all levels in our churches;
8 to establish appropriate forms of consultation on matters of faith and order, mission
9 to participate as observers by invitation in each other’s forms of governance at every
10 to learn more about the practice of oversight in each other’s churches in order to
achieve a fuller sharing of ministries at a later stage of our relationship.
How do we start an LCP? – Some practical steps
A Local Covenant Partnership (LCP) is defined as existing where there is a formal written agreement affecting the ministry, congregational life, buildings and/or mission projects of two or more congregations; and approval of that agreement by the appropriate denominational authorities, on the recommendation of the Covenant Council.
This means that for an LCP to exist there must be –
- a formal written agreement by the local churches/chaplains/
participants (depending on the category of the Partnership)
- formal written authorisation by the appropriate denominational bodies in line with their provisions and procedures
- it is advisable to have recognition, ongoing liaison, support and review by the Covenant Council and local Diocesan / District Covenant Facilitators.
A Local Covenant Partnership is often born of an increased sense of relationship, friendship and co-operation between two congregations. People gradually come to see that things might be done so much better together than separately. This may be for reasons of financial and other resources; equally it may come about through the realization that Christian witness done together is much more powerful.
A vision is born which requires an act of faith.
Questions emerge as to how congregations may start to formalize their relationship.
The Covenant Council exists to facilitate such relationships and is available for consultation at all stages. At the initial stage, it suggests the following steps:
– Call meetings of interested parties within each congregation
(these might include youth groups, women’s meetings, Sunday School teachers, fellowship groups, leadership teams)
-Through listening and sharing, work out what it is that you would like to achieve
together, what the vision might be –
- Is it bringing together existing ministry, mission, life?
- Is it responding together to a new challenge or opportunity, e.g. new housing, a chaplaincy, a publicly recognized need?
- Draw up a ‘shopping list’ of ideas for further reflection within the congregations
-Seek support and guidance from higher levels
-Draft a brief statement of what it is planned to do together and why –
‘a Declaration of Intent (models are available from the Covenant Council).
-Float this statement round the congregations both for clarification and refinement, but, importantly, for ‘ownership’ by the congregations
-Celebrate the Declaration of Intent
-Begin to formulate a constitution (models are available from the Council Council)
-It is important to note that, as with every relationship, things happen in stages and that
there may be a series of legal and constitutional matters which need to be resolved.
– There is nothing, however, to prevent Methodist and Church of Ireland people working
together in joint acts of witness and service in the communities of which they are a part.
More about the exploratory stage
The following suggestions may provide a framework for the Committee to discern how the Holy Spirit is calling the congregations to move forward together, and to help to decide what form the LCP may take.
- Consideration and organization of social events whereby congregations can get to know each other or fund raise jointly for worthy causes.
- Exploration of opportunities for the congregations to pray and study together during Advent, Lent or other appropriate occasions.
- Encouragement of joint meetings from time to time of Mothers’ Union and Methodist Women in Ireland .
- Consultation on the needs of children, youth, elderly and otherly-abled within the locality and consideration of joint ventures within the guidelines of the protection policies for children and vulnerable adults.
- Carrying out of a joint audit or survey of the needs of the neighbourhood and consideration of appropriate joint action.
- Planning of a united welcome to newcomers to the area; carrying out a joint visitation of new housing developments. To facilitate this task, there might be the joint production of a leaflet providing new arrivals with helpful information about local community as well as what the churches are offering.
- Consideration of the establishment together of new churches in new areas, subject to the approval of the respective denominations.
- Consideration of possibilities for the visitation of local schools, hospitals, nursing and residential homes.
- Consideration of the production of an occasional joint news sheet.
- Formation of relationships with other churches and faiths represented in the area who are prepared to work more closely together. Observers could be invited to attend the LCP committee.
- Making church property available to the other partner as required. Each congregation shall make any agreed financial allocations to the LCP Committee to facilitate its work.
Larger partners should be sensitive to the smaller partner’s needs. Major or contentious issues should be decided by a majority of each congregation’s representatives separately. Where differences cannot be resolved they may be referred to the Diocesan and District Covenant Facilitators, or ultimately to the Covenant Council.
A report of the work of the LCP Committee should be submitted annually to the Diocesan and District Covenant Facilitators, and to the secretary of the Covenant Council.
Notes from the Covenant Council
- The Covenant Council has outlines for constitutions, Declarations of Intent and so forth which might be used either as they are or for guidance.
- The Council recommends that any constitution should be drawn up in consultation with the appropriate church authorities.
- The Council has some orders of services which might be helpful as models for congregations wishing to celebrate their relationship at various stages
- In the experience of the Council, there are areas which require sensitivity and resolution. There may be differing expectations and unintentional hurt in close relationships and it is important to establish criteria for good practice. The following have been identified
- Family /Pastoral occasions
- Services of confirmation/ reception into full membership
- Issues concerning services of Holy Communion
- presidency at the Eucharist
- sacramental exclusion
- inclusion of visiting ministers as celebrants
- alcoholic/non-alcoholic wine
- distribution of the elements
- cups or chalice
- disposal of the elements
3. Issues of inclusion and courtesy
- due consultation prior to joint acts of worship
- invitation to special church occasions and other functions
- reciprocal courtesies
- sensitivity to minority usage and ways of worship
4. Other issues
- pastoral visitation
- length of sermons
- style of worship
Very often new ideas fail to get up and running simply because there is no-one to see that they do! Default mechanisms at local level come into play, and nothing new happens.
Each diocese and district has appointed a person to monitor Covenant developments or lack of them in the area. Their names and contact details can be found on the Covenant Council website at www.———–. There you will also find a map indicating approximate diocesan and districts boundaries. Each facilitator should work with his/her counterpart in the sister church in facilitating and resolving issues which may emerge.
Their brief is to encourage the development of the Covenant relationship at local level:
- by advocating the Covenant where little or nothing appears to be happening.
- by encouraging where congregations are unsure of how to go forward.
- by highlighting opportunities for working together.
- by assisting developments when invited.
- by highlighting examples of good practice and exploring reasons for poor practice.
- by being available for consultation to ministers and congregations.
- by working in conjunction with LCPs in reporting to the Covenant Council.
- by together facilitating LCPs in any process of review.
- to register a copy of the Declaration of Intent, Constitution (including any subsequent amendments) and the Report(s) of the review(s) of each LCP with the Covenant Council.
The person appointed
- may be lay or ordained.
- should be conversant with the processes leading up to the signing of the Covenant.
- should be in broad sympathy with the thrust of the Covenant, while being sympathetic to those who remain uneasy with it.
- should be known at local level for the purposes of consultation by both ministers and congregations.
- should be aware of partner facilitators in the sister diocese(s) / district(s).
- should be enabled to report on Covenant matters to the relevant Synod, and should work to keep these on the agenda.
- should be ready to consult appropriately in situations of complexity, particularly with the Covenant Council
It is important the facilitators are active in pursuing their brief and ready to work with their counterparts in the sister church. Clearly there are areas where, because of facts-on-the-ground, that facilitators may have to relate, at different times, and in different cases, to a number of different counterparts in the sister church. For example, the Midlands and Southern District includes areas covered by at least four united dioceses.
Where there may be a perceived conflict of interest (e.g. where one or both of the local Covenant Facilitators is a minister of member of one of the congregations involved) the respective bishop or district superintendent may invite a facilitator from a neighbouring diocese or a member of the Covenant Council to act as facilitator for a particular LCP.
Areas requiring to be addressed by Ecumenical Canons
- select vestry
- ministerial appointment
- Holy Communion /Eucharist – elements
- pay and pensions
- joint financial issues
- ownership of joint buildings
- confirmation practices
Categories of LCP
Experience from other places has shown that the primary categories of LCP are:
1. Single /Joint Congregation Partnerships. Where two congregations have merged to form one united congregation, or a combined church established in new towns or new housing areas where close co-operation has made sense for both ecumenical and economical reasons. They may have shared ministry and a common purse, and seek to integrate every aspect of their life and work.
2. Congregations in Covenanted Partnership. Sometimes described as “unity in reconciled diversity”, this pattern of partnership allows distinct denominational identities, but encourages commitment to joint action. Two or more congregations in an area agree to work very closely together for specific purposes, whilst usually retaining their own buildings, forms of worship and ministers. Such congregations set out their agreement in a local covenant, which defines, for instance, what they are going to do together, how they will share resources and how frequently they will meet for joint worship.
3. Shared Building Partnerships. This type of partnership is formed when a Sharing Agreement enables either an existing or a new church building to be shared by two congregations. They may operate as completely distinct congregations, each with its own worship pattern and church government. Alternatively the Sharing Agreement may be a vital part of a partnership described in 1 or 2 above.
4. Chaplaincy Partnerships. These typically occur in prisons, hospitals, universities or colleges of further or higher education. Chaplains from both denominations who find themselves working together on similar matters decide to formalise the relationship in a partnership which is then approved by the respective denominational authorities and by the institution involved. Increasingly, institutions are looking towards a partnership model.
5. Mission Partnerships. These are formed when the churches undertake a specific commitment together, for example to industrial or rural mission or to religious broadcasting. They may also formalise a twinning link with a united church or a council of churches in another country.
6. Education Partnerships. These are entered into when denominations wish to commit themselves to working together in areas such as lay training, ministerial training, or joint schools.
SOME OF THE ISSUES IN EACH MODEL
1 Single/Joint Congregation Partnership
Single Congregation Partnership is the term given to an LCP where there is:
- One joint congregation. This type of partnership involves shared sacramental ministry. Aspects of the life and worship of each tradition should be reflected in the Constitution. The Partnership must be able to be recognised as a local congregation by each of the partner Churches.
- Normally only one worship centre, but a variety of styles of worship. The aim must be to offer a nourishing and varied diet of worship. Many Methodists appreciate the opportunity for more frequent eucharistic worship, while many Anglicans enjoy all-age services and informal worship which may have a key role in reaching out to those on the fringe of the church. There will be opportunities to use ecumenical forms of worship.
- Shared sacramental ministry – there may be a ministerial team, drawn from both denominations. Some of the clergy may have pastoral responsibility for other congregations (whether Partnerships or not) and others may serve full time in the LCP. In many cases, however, ordained ministry will be provided primarily by one of the partner denominations, often in an agreed alternating pattern.
- A common purse – a shared life calls for a common budget and a common purse. Out of this payments can be made in recognition of ordained ministry received and involvement in the partner denominations’ wider ministry and mission.
- An LCP Church Council which as far as possible co-ordinates the life of the Partnership. Local decision making will focus in an LCP Church Council and a Congregational Meeting. How decisions are taken will be spelt out in the constitution after careful discussion of different denominational understandings.
Single Congregation Partnerships may come into being by the formal coming together of two or more congregations, where a pooling of resources is perceived as God’s will. Usually the congregations come into one building, though some retain two and use them for different purposes.
Others may take the form of ecumenical church plants – where in a new housing development several denominations combine to ‘grow’ a congregation. These will often begin in a house, progressing to a school or community centre. In the early stages they may rely heavily on ministry (and some members of the congregation) from outside the immediate area.
Approval must be sought from the appropriate denominational authorities.
Often a Single Congregation Partnership will also be a Shared Building Partnership.
2 Congregations in Covenanted Partnerships
Local covenants between two or more churches can help local churches live and work together whilst also remaining distinct. Covenanted partnerships are constituted by formal agreements between local churches. These recognise a mutual commitment to God and to each other and lay down ways in which the relationship will be deepened and the locality served. Such covenants acknowledge the distinctiveness of different congregations, while enabling them to share some forms of worship, church life, pastoral care and witness to the wider world.
To be recognised as a LCP such covenants must be formally supported and ratified by the denominational authorities involved. Informal local covenants also exist, but these cannot be considered to be LCPs until they fulfil the conditions outlined in the first paragraph above.
The advantage of a covenant partnership is that it forms a basis of mutual commitment on which the participating congregations and their denominations can rely and build. Setting up a local covenant also indicates to those responsible for the appointment of ministers that they should consult with the partner denomination before making ministerial appointments to any of the churches in the covenant, and that only ministers ready and able to work co-operatively should be appointed.
Like marriage, a covenanted partnership should not be entered into lightly. It is vital that the members of the participating congregations should be involved fully in prayer and consideration of its implications.
A local covenant should be drawn up, the text of which must be approved by denominational authorities. It should clearly state the objectives of the partnership in such areas as mission, joint ministry, shared worship; to describe only general aspirations of “working more closely together” is insufficient. There also needs to be a commitment to the development of the relationship between the churches and what they do together.
In covenanted partnerships, particularly those with many members, it will normally be necessary to have a constitution which lays down the structures and procedures for joint decision making and defines areas of responsibility. The covenant will be signed formally and recognised by the appropriate authorities in a special service for the occasion. Its life and development will then be monitored and supported by the local District & Diocesan Covenant Facilitators who will also carry out a review after a specified period.
3 Shared Building Partnerships
A Sharing Agreement enables each of the partners involved to use the church as if it were a building of its own denomination, extending the provisions spelt out in canon law or the trust deed. Where a Methodist Chapel is held under local trustees, their permission must be sought for the shared use of Buildings.
Churches may decide to share their buildings for a variety of reasons:
– a congregation is outgrowing its existing premises, but cannot afford, or may not wish, to buy or build somewhere larger;
– a congregation has dwindled and cannot afford, or may not wish, to keep up a large, old church building;
– in a new town or major housing development denominations come together to provide one church building to be used by all;
– two or more denominations in an area want to make a formal commitment to Christian unity by sharing their lives and ministry in a LCP; this may include the sharing of buildings.
All sharing of buildings offers an ecumenical opportunity. Even those who come together because of economic circumstances can learn and change through the experience of sharing. They may then take some more steps down the path towards greater commitment to each other and the wider church. For this reason those cases where care has been taken to enter into a formal sharing agreement involving the appropriate local and wider denominational authorities constitute shared building partnerships and are a form of LCP.
Sharing a church building is not a straightforward process, but it can be made easier by taking the needs and wishes of each congregation into consideration at every stage.
1. The churches are not entering into a landlord/tenant relationship, but into a sharing relationship with an element of Christian partnership. If a congregation which has no buildings approaches another, seeking a base for worship and outreach, then the approach must go through the church leadership; this is not an arrangement which is appropriately handled by a caretaker or hall bookings secretary. The question of insurance must always be fully investigated.
2. Both congregations need to be clear what it involves. It may mean making adjustments to the space or changing the times of services, for instance. Some members of both “host” and “guest” churches may find this difficult. It helps if the two congregations make the effort to understand as much as possible about the theology and forms of worship of the other church so that they can treat each other sensitively.
3. A Sharing Agreement enables thoroughgoing legal and management arrangements to be entered into by both denominations. It provides greater security and may enable capital funds from the “guest” congregation to be channelled into the “host” church. It will usually stipulate that a Joint Council be established to decide when and how the building is to be shared and to resolve any difficulties that arise.
4. Normally one of the partner churches, usually the one owning the shared building, will act as Custodian Trustee for the partnership. This may also apply to buildings jointly owned.
4 Chaplaincy Partnerships
The formation of LCPs for chaplaincy within institutional settings such as a health care trust, prison or establishment of further or higher education usually arises in one of two ways:
- from the strong desire of the chaplains themselves to work and be seen to work increasingly closely;
- on the initiative of the Intermediate Body, when seeking to provide appropriate chaplaincy.
There must be an agreed Declaration of Intent, solemnly attested at a service to inaugurate the Partnership. Not only the chaplains but also the leaders of the church bodies which they represent and senior members of the institution in which they serve should be present and should normally be signatories to the document.
- Universities. Forming a chaplaincy partnership may enable more effective chaplaincy to the institution and will lend credibility to the work.
- Further Education. A chaplaincy partnership could either secure a half- or full-time post in the name of a range of churches or integrate the contributions of several part-time chaplains.
- Prisons. The Prison Chaplaincy Service encourages the formation of chaplaincy partnerships for individual prisons. Prison chaplaincy can be particularly intense and make heavy personal demands, so the formation of a team strongly committed to each other in their common task is usually welcomed by chaplains and prison authorities.
- Health Care. All Chaplains are expected to embrace ecumenical teamwork. A Chaplaincy Covenant puts icing on this cake for those teams where working relationships are strong, by affirming what has already been achieved and making a commitment to continue and develop this. It also gives a standard of ecumenical co-operation for use when new posts are created and vacancies filled. The Covenant is a personal covenant between the Chaplains, endorsed by the employing NHS/Primary Care Trust, the nominating bodies and the Intermediate Body.
5 Mission Partnerships
The commonest forms include –
- Industrial Mission, which from its beginnings has been ecumenical in nature. Those appointed on a full-time or part-time basis represent “the Church” rather than a single denomination. This is experienced as a great strength. A Declaration of Intent and a Constitution will be needed. This will include a management committee. Care must be given to its composition to ensure that the Partnership is “owned” by the churches and that industrial/commercial bodies are well represented; both management and trade unions.
- Local Broadcasting often relies on ecumenically co-ordinated input. Some Intermediate Bodies have set up a local broadcasting partnership to employ, support and manage a full or part-time producer/presenter of religious material and to keep local broadcasting stations aware of their responsibilities.
- Overseas Church Twinning. In some areas a twinning arrangement with an overseas church or churches has the full backing of several denominations. It is then registered as a form of Mission Partnership LCP. This seems particularly appropriate when a relationship is formed with a diocese or unit of a United Church.
6 Education Partnerships
- This type of Partnership is appropriate where the nature of the institution is to be ecumenical and is to be acknowledged as a resource for at least two different church constituencies. Examples are St Bede’s (Roman Catholic/Church of England) school in Surrey and the Queen’s College (Anglican/Methodist/URC) ecumenical ministerial training college in Birmingham. Lay training initiatives are also regarded as Education Partnerships.