Canons B43 and B44 - The Church of England Ecumenical Canons (1989)

The Ecumenical Canons are a response both to the failure of the 1982 Covenant Proposals (involving the Church of England, the Methodist, the United Reformed and Moravian Churches), and also to the creativity of the 1987 Swanwick Declaration with its assertion that Churches in their relating together must move 'from co-operation to commitment'. They are a key tool used by the Church of England to take forward its commitment to visible unity.

Much local co-operation goes on without any need for canonical ordering. Canons B43 and B44 deal particularly with the sharing of ministry and worship, including the sacraments. Both Canons authorize developments which are wanted locally; so they are enabling.

It is important to be aware of these two Canons (and at times to read them). Be aware it is frequently the bishop who acts as the authority for Church of England participation.

• Canon B 43 relates to all parishes and cathedrals. Its general approach is: 'if you are permitted to exercise a role within your own Church, you may carry out that function in the Partner Church'. A particular local relationship may be expressed informally with no specific document in place, or it may be expressed as a non-formal local covenant. Such arrangements, often creative and significant, are not LEPs. In both cases, Canon B43 is the guide for the Church of England.

• Canon B44 applies to the participation of the Church of England in LEPs through its parishes and cathedrals and through its involvement in institutions such as schools, hospitals, prisons and universities, and in particular ventures such as industrial mission and ministerial training. It makes provision for greater sharing of sacramental ministry, with ministers of partner Churches in the LEP being authorized to celebrate Holy Communion in Church of England churches, and bishops being able to share in joint confirmations.

Grappling with the complexity of reconciling the ordained ministries of divided Churches, the Church of England's position is:

i) Services of Holy Communion led by the minister of the LEP Partner Church, even using a Church of England rite, are not 'services according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England'.
ii) The permissions given under Canon B44 are for 'shared ministry' not 'interchangeability of ministry'.

For the Church of England, issues of eucharist and ministry cannot be separated out - hence the careful language above.

The task of the bishop is to decide what permissions to give the local Church of England Partner under Canon B44; and whether to give those permissions en bloc at the outset, or offer them step by step when requested.

It would be wise to consult Church of England colleagues, especially within the diocese, and Partner Church leaders/representatives - sometimes in relation to particular situations, and sometimes without the pressure of the immediate.

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