United Methodists Among Signers of German
Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism
By Elliott Wright*
New York, NY, May 2, 2007—The United Methodist Church is one of 11 denominations in Germany that have agreed to mutual recognition of Christian baptism. The parties also include the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches.
"The agreement is a big step forward in the ecumenical fellowship in Germany," said Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, the United Methodist bishop in Germany, who was reached at a meeting of the Council of Bishops in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She responded to questions by email.
Such an agreement means that members can move from one denomination to another without the need for rebaptism. United Methodists have long recognized baptisms made in the name of the Holy Trinity in other churches. (2004 Book of Discipline Par. 225).
United Methodist representatives took active roles in achieving the German agreement. Retired United Methodist Bishop Walter Klaiber, immediate past chair of the ecumenical German Church Council, preached at the April 29 service at Magdeburg Cathedral where the mutual recognition document was signed. He was also a consultant to the dialogue that produced the agreement.
In addition to the Roman Catholic, Evangelical (predominantly Lutheran), and United Methodist Churches, other signers include the Anglican, Moravian, and several Eastern and Oriental Churches. Said Bishop Wenner: "We recognize baptism in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit as a sign of the unity of the church universal—One Lord. One Faith. One Baptist, as it says in Ephesians 4:4."
Several "free churches," such as Baptist and Mennonite, who practice only "believer baptism," did not sign, but a Mennonite leader brought greetings at the worship service celebrating the agreement. Methodists, Bishop Wenner noted, often serve as a mediating influence between the "free churches" and the more highly structured denominations.
The bishop said that participation in the baptism agreement was unanimously approved by the Central Conference of The United Methodist Church in Germany. The Rev. Christian Voller-Morgenstern, a district superintendent, represented the denomination at the formal signing. The United Methodist Church in Germany has some 65,000 members.
Several regional agreements served as models for the national mutual recognition on baptism, Bishop Wenner said: "About three years ago, the Evangelical Church in Germany and the Roman Catholic Church started a bilateral dialogue. They asked the Council of Churches to assist them in inviting other churches to participate in that dialogue.
"The Methodist voice was very much heard in all the stages of writing a first draft of the paper, discussing it with the churches, bringing in the different concerns. Bishop Dr.Walter Klaiber, who served as chair of the Church Council in Germany up to March 2007, was a consultant on many stages in the process. In 2006 the churches were asked to give their response as to whether or not they were willing to sign the document. The executives of the Central Conference of The United Methodist Church in Germany voted unanimously in favour of the document."
Ecumenical News International noted that Magdeburg Cathedral, where the agreement was ratified, has a one thousand year old baptism font, thought to be the oldest in Germany.
*Elliott Wright is the information officer of the General Board of Global Ministries
Date posted: May 02, 2007