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Methodist minister's ecumenical labor lost.

NEW YORK - How far does the imperative of Christian unity stretch?

Not yet far enough to allow an ordained United Methodist minister to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church, according to the Protestant denomination's ecumenical agency.

The Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns has filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the United Methodist Church's Judicial Council, the ecclesiastical high court, asking it to prohibit the Rev. William Farmer from retaining his clergy credentials if he joins another denomination.

A person cannot be simultaneously an ordained clergyperson in the United Methodist Church and a lay member of any (other) church," the commission said in its brief.

Ironically, the brief was authorized during the 35-member commission's Oct. 5-9 meeting at a Catholic retreat center outside Chicago.

The 8.9 million-member denomination's Judicial Council meets Oct. 27-30 in Atlanta and will decide Farmer's fate at that time.

Farmer, a retired professor of biblical studies, joined Holy Cross Catholic Church, a multiethnic congregation in Dallas in 1990 while a clergy member of United Methodist's North Texas Annual Conference.

Farmer said his decision to join the church was an expression of his commitment to ecumenism and racial justice.

Earlier this year, Methodist Bishop Bruce Blake declared Farmer "in disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church." He also declared "illegal" an annual conference clergy session action describing Farmer as "blameless in his life and official administration."

Defending his stance, Farmer has argued in the Sept. 24 United Methodist Reporter that the denomination "ordains for ministry in the universal church of Jesus Christ."

"If an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, in fulfillment of his or her call, is led to make a theologically valid gesture of ecumenical reconciliation and this action prompts the United Methodist Church to terminate his or her membership, then this would be a sign that ordination by the United Methodist Church is something less than ordination for ministry in the universal church of Jesus Christ," Farmer wrote.

Farmer said "it would be cynical" in this age of ecumenical progress "to maintain that the universal body of Christ has no voice except the individual voices of its denominations."

Methodist ecumenists hastened to point out that the dispute is not about Methodist-Catholic relations.

"It could have happened in (regard to) any other denomination," said the Rev. Norman DeWire, president of Methodist Theological School in Ohio and chairman of the unity commission's polity committee.

The unity commission's brief to the judicial council focuses on the incompatibility of being a member of the clergy and a layperson at the same time. It noted that there are ecumenical situations where ministers are granted dual clergy status to serve the needs of a particular ministry but asked the court to draw a sharp distinction between such cases and that of Farmer.

"A person cannot be both clergy and lay simultaneously," the brief said. "We base our assumption on the United Methodist conviction that ordination in our church constitutes ordination into the ministry of the whole church of Jesus Christ.

"Farmer is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and, we believe, in the universal church. Therefore, his seeking and receiving the status of a layperson in another church represents a denial of his ordination."
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Title Annotation:Rev. William Farmer
Author:Anderson, David E.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Oct 29, 1993
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