American Christianity as a whole is in decline. No group has been spared the effects of it. Mainline Protestant denominations have been declining for years and are continuing to do so, and to such an extent that some may disappear.
There has been talk and movement towards consolidating denominations in order to address this as well as pool resources. Two of the largest denominations, the United Methodists and the Episcopalians, are moving towards full communion with each others:
The United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops approved sending a resolution to the 2020 General Conference to approve a “full communion” agreement with The Episcopal Church.
Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, co-chair of the United Methodist-Episcopal Dialogue Committee, told those gathered at a meeting last week where they approved the resolution by a unanimous voice vote, that it was important to explain what the full communion proposal “is and what it is not.”
“It’s not an organic merger, two denominations becoming one, but the reminder that we see in one another the signs of church — one holy catholic and apostolic church,” said Bishop Palmer, as reported by the United Methodist News Service.
As part of the agreement, the UMC and the Episcopal Church will officially acknowledge each other as partners in ministry, recognize each other’s baptism and communion and share clergy.
The bishops approved a resolution brought by the Dialogue Committee, which came from a committee meeting held in Austin, Texas, on April 29-30.
In a statement released on May 1, the committee acknowledged that their resolution comes amid great internal debate within the UMC over LGBT issues, which they believed might introduce “sharp and as yet unanswered questions about the prospects for full communion between our churches.”
“And yet, we believe that what we are experiencing in the various crises of our denominational life is the birth pangs of something remarkable, something new,” stated the committee.
“We believe that the forces of polarization, mistrust, and animosity in our society and in our ecclesial life will not have the last word.”
Earlier this year, the UMC reaffirmed its official opposition to homosexuality, gay marriage, and the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals at a special session of General Conference.
By contrast, over the years The Episcopal Church has become increasingly supportive of the LGBT movement, allowing openly gay clergy and same-sex marriage, which has prompted many congregations and members to leave the denomination in protest.
The two mainline Protestant denominations officially began their bilateral dialogues in 2002, with the Dialogue Committee announcing the draft proposal for full communion in 2017.
“The relationships formed over these years of dialogue, and the recognition that there are presently no theological impediments to unity, paved the way for this current draft proposal,” stated the committee in 2017.
“We believe that this proposal represents a significant witness of unity and reconciliation in an increasingly divided world and pray that you will join us in carrying this work forward.”
Last November, the Council of Bishops voted to approve the preparation of legislation for the 2020 General Conference that would carry out the full communion proposal.
“We are blessed in that neither of our churches, or their predecessor bodies, have officially condemned one another, nor have they formally called into question the faith, the ministerial orders, or the sacraments of the other church,” noted a committee statement from last year. (source)
This intercommunion does not deal with the serious theological issues that plague both groups, and which will likely be a source of their continued decline. However, this represents part of the changing landscape of religion in the US and how Americans relate between their faith and actions.