Friend Blogs

I’ve added a new section of links to the blog. A number of my friends have their own blogs, which I thought I would plug:

Journeys with Jordan: authored by Jordan Trumble, a friend of mine from Capital University who has been serving with the Episcopal Service Corp.

over the water: authored by Rosalind Hughes, a Bexley Hall student. Many of the posts are sermons she has preached.

this top of speculation: authored by Pilgrim, described as “mostly an examination of faith (mine) and the role of the church (especially the Episcopal Church) in the world.”

All of these are worthy reads. If you know of other blogs I should add to my list, send them to me!

I assure you, that all are authored by Episcopalians is a complete coincidence. Come on Lutherans, send me some blogs!

Lessons in Civil Discourse

To counter the previous “downer” post, I thought today I would share a more hopeful story.

Trinity Lutheran Seminary has a unique ecumenical relationship. While it is joined with the Methodist Theological School (“Methesco”), the Pontifical College Josephinum, and Bexley Hall Episcopal Seminary in the Theological Consortium of Greater Columbus, it is its relationship with Bexley Hall that has opened the door to some amazing ecumenical opportunities.

TLS and Bexley Hall share more than just an interest in working together academically. We share our professors, our classes, our worship, our buildings, our campus, and our community; two seminaries, one community. I have had the privilege to experience regular (and diverse) Anglican worship, classes, and of course, the famous hospitality of Common Meal at Bexley House every Thursday night.

Classes with my Anglican brothers and sisters has given me the chance to engage in some pretty intense debates. Too often, debates among Christians deteriorate until both sides resort to shouting their party lines at each other, as if by being LOUDER they will make themselves more CORRECT. But it doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) this way.

One of my classmates and I can almost always be counted on to take opposite sides in a debate. Some of these debates have been over the involvement of laity in worship, the historic episcopate, “Called to Common Mission” (the full communion agreement between the ELCA and the ECUSA), inclusive language, Bible translations, and I’m sure a number of others that I cannot remember. Most recently, I disagreed with an author because of his views of Protestant Theology, while he agreed with the author for the same reason.

In some Christian circles, these disagreements would probably lead to shouting matches, mutual disdain, scheming, conniving, conspiracies, and sabotage. Yet we have managed to find a way to speak civilly with one another in our disagreements (with the occasional impassioned outburst to keep things interesting), and we try to see the issue from the other’s point of view. I admit that he is so good at forming his arguments that I often find myself bested in these debates, even when I bring the Book of Concord along to help me out. Another day, perhaps, another day! Best of all, the disagreements don’t affect our social interactions. Work is work, not-work is not-worth fighting over.

The wider catholic (universal) church could learn a lot from the relationship TLS and Bexley Hall (and their community) have. We live out the full communion agreement between our two traditions every day. It is an enlightening experiment 13 years running, and with God’s luck, will be an example to other Christians for at least that many to come.

What Is Ecumenism?

I get this question quite often, so it seems fitting that the first post on Living an Ecumenical Life should address it.

Ecumenism is, in a nutshell, the search for Christian unity. What this means varies from person to person and church to church. For some, Christian unity is a hope for the ultimate reunification of all Christians under one worldwide church organization. For others, Christian unity is Christians cooperating with each other in mission work and advocacy. It is, at its core, a movement dedicated overcoming barriers and divisions between Christians.

The Modern Ecumenical Movement

The modern ecumenical movement is usually traced to the 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference. This meeting of Protestant minds was the largest meeting of its kind at the time, and marked a new dedication to working together in mission. The foundations of the National Council of Churches USA and the World Council of Churches can be seen in the work of Edinburgh. The next few decades marked a rapid growth and enthusiasm for the ecumenical movement.

One major way in which my church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has “done” ecumenism is through full communion agreements. In these bilateral agreements between two church bodies, agreement is reached on the basics of belief and faith. Members from the two churches are able to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist from each other, and clergy may be shared between the two. The ELCA has this type of agreement with the Presbyterian Church USA, Reformed Church of America, the Episcopal Church USA, the Moravian Church, and the United Methodist Church.

Churches don’t have to have full communion agreements in order to do ecumenism. The majority of churches have very few of these agreements, if any. Yet they still feel called to cooperation with their Christian brothers and sisters, engaging in mission work together, co-funding projects, working together out in the field, or standing in solidarity with one another in the face of injustice. Any time Christians of different traditions gather for prayer, worship, or work, ecumenism is being done.

Recent developments in Christianity have cast some doubt on the feasibility of the ecumenical movement for some. Woman’s ordination caused a great deal of tension, and now the controversies surrounding homosexuality and the ministry have broken many ties within and between churches. My own church just voted in late 2009 to ordain openly gay men and women and has led to congregations breaking away and joining/forming other national church bodies. The Anglican Communion is suffering similar issues, and some predict a split there as well. Churches that once worked together are pulling apart and severing ties, both in worship and out in the field.

This is the state of affairs, so to speak, that confronts anyone living an ecumenical life; an uncertain future, but a rewarding journey all the same. Those committed to ecumenism work for a vision that they may not see come to fruition in their lifetimes. But the task is still an important one for Christians, and one I hope to be doing for a long, long time.