New moves toward Protestant church union are under way in at least ten countries at present.
*Nigeria—Anglicans (Episcopalians), Methodists, and Presbyterians have approved a constitution and are preparing a service of union for launching the new Church of Nigeria next December.
*England—Methodists and Anglicans (Church of England) have voted to negotiate for the next three years. Recognition of each other's ministry is hoped for by 1970, with organic union to follow. Disestablishment of the Church of England as a state church is one of the many thorny problems to be worked out.
*Australia—Congregationalists, Methodists, and Presbyterians have a timetable for union, possibly by 1968. The process could be slowed down if Anglicans, now looking at the proposed plan, ask to enter.
*Canada—Anglicans, Methodists, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians (the three latter in the United Church of Christ) after twenty-two years of negotiations, are moving toward organic union. Anglicans will vote on a basic plan for union this August at Vancouver. The United Church of Christ members are to vote in September, 1966, at Waterloo, Ontario.
*Wales and England—Presbyterians of England and Congregationalists of England and Wales recently approved a plan for union. Now both church bodies must vote. Presbyterians in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland are not being included in union plans for the time being.
*Scotland and England—Anglicans and Presbyterians of both countries will hold a summit meeting in January, 1966, at Edinburgh to consider further steps toward unity.
*Italy—The Second Italian Evangelical Congress meeting in Rome recently voted to form statutes for a federation and act on them, possibly in 1967. Baptists, Methodists, and Waldensians—the three major Protestant groups—favor federation and an increased dialog with the Roman Catholic Church. Pentecostals and smaller groups are less enthusiastic on both counts.
*North India and Pakistan—Anglicans, Brethren, Disciples, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists (the two latter in United Church of Christ) are now in the third edition of plans for union which were initated in 1957.
*Ghana—Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Methodists are involved in union plans first started in 1963.
*England—The British Council of Churches, representing the British Protestant churches outside the Anglican communion, has a target date of Easter, 1980, for church unity among council members.
*Denominational divisions separating the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Congregational ministries have existed since the Protestant Reformation.
The Church of South India, formed in 1947, pioneered in combining Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists. It took 28 years of negotiations and seven editions of a constitution to effect a reconciliation.
Attempts such as these at cooperation among churches often flounder at common tasks, such as worship. Service of communion, central to church worship and unity, becomes difficult over a common "table" when churches traditionally disagree as to who should preside.
Some churches say only a minister ordained by a bishop in historic succession, or, with continuity from the time of the apostles (historic episcopate), can celebrate a valid Communion. In numerous others, a minister ordained by a presbytery or a congregation usually presides.
The Church of South India was the first to resolve these and many other differences in the various ministries. The new Church of Nigeria will be the second to combine both the episcopal and nonepiscopal ministries.
In areas of the world where Christian churches are in the minority, it has seemed expedient for them to unite. But they are motivated by more than practical reasons.
Clergymen stress it is their "oneness in Christ" that makes them willing to work for unity.
Reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor. ® 1965 The Christian Science Publishing Society. All rights reserved.