Ecumenical Corner

August 1999
Ernest Falardeau, SSS

Christian Unity in the United States

It is difficult for the average person to get the sense of any national trend, or even more so an international development. For ecumenists it is vital to keep abreast of both national and international currents in the movement for Christian unity and interreligious cooperation.

A Good Place to Start

The National Workshop on Christian Unity is a good place to acquire a sense of direction for ecumenical trends both nationally and internationally. It is a gathering of some 400 persons from across the country, Canada and overseas. The four key-note addresses, the seminars and the network programs which fill the days - and even meal times and evenings - provide rich fare and continuing education opportunities for all. This year’s NWCU was held May 3-6 in Rochester, NY.

Significant Events

The most significant events of the recent past were the Eighth General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Hararé, Zimbabwe (Africa) in December 1998, and the mission to Belgrade sponsored by the Serbian Orthodox Church and the National Council of Churches (incorrectly referred to by the media as "Jesse Jackson’s mission"). Also of great importance were recent agreements for "full communion" between several Churches. The most notable of these agreements are the Lutheran-Episcopal Concordat and the Church of Christ Uniting proposal for nine Protestant denominations stemming from English Protestantism.

It is not possible to record all that went on from Monday through Thursday of this very full week, but overall impressions can be given. The movement for Christian unity is very much alive and well. The impetus of Pope John Paul II’s Ut Unum Sint and his proclamation of the Jubilee Year 2000, have given new energy to the movement.

Ecumenical Networks

Local efforts continue without let-up and national efforts as well. Three important networks, NADEO, EDEO and LERN, representing Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran diocesan ecumenical officers respectively, are two-thirds of the participants in the National Workshop on Christian Unity. The National Association of Ecumenical and Interreligious Staff (NAEIS) is also an important group at the National Workshop. ECCO, which encompasses other ecumenical representatives such as those from the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches, contributes to the success of the National Workshop as well.

All of these participants are carefully networking to promote Christian Unity at the national level. They work in dioceses at projects involving collaborative efforts. They are responsible for bringing the movement for Christian unity to the parish and individual level.

Grace and Prayer

Organization is not what makes the movement for Christian unity succeed. Individual cooperation with the grace of God and the prayer of Christ "that all may be one" accomplishes much more. The unity of Christians is God’s work rather than the accomplishment of human organizations. This is brought out dramatically by the many hours that are spent during the National Workshop in common prayer. Each year more and more Churches are able to celebrate the Eucharist together because of "full communion" agreements. Morning and Evening Prayer is celebrated with increasing numbers of participants where shared Eucharist is not possible. Joint luncheons, shared workshops and other indications of growing participation show the keen interest of all to work together.

The Church of the Future

Perhaps the greatest moment of all was the Opening Service of the National Workshop. This year it was held at the historic downtown Presbyterian Church where participants crowded together to hear the Very Rev. Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. He gave a rousing homily on the power of the Risen Lord and the Holy Spirit to unite Christians together. Song, dance, and prayer symbolize the Church of the future and express the vibrant energy of the ecumenical movement today.

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