The first plenary session in more than a decade of the Consultation on Church Union, an effort to foster unity short of merger among nine mainline Protestant denominations, got off to a spirited start this week in St. Louis.
During the five-day gathering, about 200 delegates and observers are expected to formulate a report to their churches about how they can move together into the next century while maintaining their distinct denominations.
"It is definitely not a structural merger," said the Rev. Lewis Lancaster, interim general secretary of the organization.
The denominations are the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, International Council of Community Churches, United Methodist Church and United Church of Christ.