Tuesday, November 29, 2011

We're Not Dead Yet

Crusty Old Dean is irked - and this irritation was occasioned by Christmas shopping. COD refuses to step into a store for Christmas shopping, and the last time anything was actually purchased over the counter in a physical store for anyone for Christmas was in 2001. That experience was enough to make COD do all his shopping for Christmas online since then, even when COD was using his trusty 33.6 modem built into the first generation iMac desktop.

COD was relaxing over the Morehouse Church Supplies catalogue yesterday: yes, this counts as Christmas shopping. CODW (Crusty Old Dean's Wife) is clergy, as are lots of his friends and colleagues.

Now, Morehouse Church Supplies is an official entity of the Episcopal Church: its cover proudly proclaims it as a division of Church Publishing, and it is the publisher of record of things official like the Episcopal Church Annual, the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, and whatnot. It even claims to be in service to the Episcopal Church since 1918.

Well and good: COD likes his church supplies with an Episcopal bent, it normally comes without the $43,000 monstrances in the Tonini Church Supplies Catalogue (available online here) or endless reproductions of the footprints poster in things like the Cokesbury Catalogue (see the whole list of options here. COD's favorite is here). Kitsch, whether over the top of chinzy, is at a minimum in the Morehouse Catalogue. This COD approves.

But then COD got to the hand embroided seals and shields page: the little things one has sewn onto a tippet for those rare occasions of state when cassock, surplice, tippet and hood are required. COD's installation earlier this month was one such occasion, a Solemn Evensong with clergy decked out in surplices and tippets. As part of adornment of one's tippet, often, but not always, there is the person's seminary shield. COD has three on his tippet, two for the seminaries from which COD earned degrees (you don't get to be a dean without having gone to a few schools along the way), and one for the seminary which puts the D in COD.

But COD's seminary was not on the list of seminary shields! The list proudly has two different shields for Virginia Seminary, one with a white background and one with a blue background, apparently for accessorizing. It lists a shield and a seal for the University of the South, in addition to the shield for the School of Theology for the University of the South. It even lists Yale Divinity School - not an Episcopal seminary - in addition to Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, which is an Episcopal seminary (and both of which are COD's alma mater - Go Elis! Beat Harvard!). So between three schools -- Virginia, Sewanee, and Yale -- there are seven different shields/seals offered.

But not a single one for Bexley Hall Seminary, the third oldest seminary of the Episcopal Church, offering the Master of Divinity degree. Seabury Western Seminary, which does not offer the Master of Divinity degree anymore (but does have excellent DMin and Anglican Studies programs), is listed. Nearly all of the domestic dioceses of the Episcopal Church are listed below the seminaries - in fact, adding up Bexley Hall's current active alumni probably is larger than the Sunday attendance of some of the dioceses listed.

COD was flabbergasted. An official agency of the Episcopal Church, listing every single seminary and nearly every single domestic diocese, does not carry the shield/seal of one of the 11 recognized seminaries of the Episcopal Church?

Now, on the one hand, COD is not out of touch with reality. COD realizes Bexley Hall is the smallest seminary in the Episcopal Church (depending on how you count). COD also realizes that narratives take hold in the church, often with little basis in fact or reality (Bexley Hall? Are they still at Kenyon? Didn't they close? Aren't they all undead?). These folk narratives can be helpful at times-- some institutions live off their glory days several years after they have entered into a mode of decline because of the lag time it takes for the narrative to change. Others -- like Bexley Hall -- which have emerged from some transition and difficulty need years to change the narrative.

Yes, Bexley Hall isn't in the news. We're not in the news because we aren't sure whether we can make it through another year, or are being sued by our neighbors, or have a crumbling physical plant we can't fix. We're not in the news because we do something which doesn't get us a lot of coverage: we continue faithfully to train people for ministry in the church for 187 years and counting. We are involved deeply in our ecumenical partnership with Trinity Lutheran Seminary, which also doesn't get one in the news because our church is so inwardly focused, at times condescending and arrogant towards other Christians, otherwise largely ignorant to ecumenical cooperation while it marches off into oblivion desperately trying to do everything on its own without ever thinking that millions of other Christians are interested in and doing many of the same thing.

Maybe Morehouse is just going where the market is; maybe it's not worth the bother to sell Bexley Hall shields. But COD thought they were serving the Episcopal Church.

Safe to say COD will be buying his church supplies from Almy.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Modest Proposal, Part 4: Provinces and Dioceses

A Modest Proposal for Restructuring, Part 4: Provinces and Dioceses

Thanks for bearing with Crusty Old Dean while he self-published his three-part reflections on the state of the ecumenical movement. This was not intended just to be filler, but rather to show that some of the dynamics about change and restructuring in our denominations are part of common issues and problems facing all kinds of institutions and organizations. This is why, in part, this change cycle is going to be so difficult and transformative: what is happening in the churches is part of what is happening in broader society and even globally.

In this week’s installment, COD turns focus to suggesting some ways to restructure Provinces and Dioceses to be more responsive to what the missional needs and purposes of the churches and the world will be. (Note: this is a failsafe plan should the Episcopal Church go it alone the next 50-75 years; COD still thinks we need some kind of Church of North India model to bring most Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists/Disciples in a federated but not merged kind of structure.)

But on to Provinces and Dioceses!


Ah, the provinces. The forgotten middle children of the Episcopal Church – yet they speak to the need for some kind of middle governing structure to facilitate the work of the church. Several other denominations have some middle kind of organizational and oversight structure. The areas United Methodist bishops cover are almost comically enormous, some with over 400 congregations. This is possible because of the role district superintendents play as an intermediate role of oversight – one could argue in Episcopal language that Methodist Episcopal Areas are kind of like provinces, with a single bishop providing oversight, broken up into smaller dioceses headed by district superintendents. It may be surprising there was a sort of similar vision for the provinces when proposed: that dioceses be grouped into provinces, each forming its own grouping within the church, each with its own presiding bishop (recall this was at a time when the Presiding Bishop was not an elected position, there was nothing like the denominational structure we have now, and the PB was simply the senior bishop in years of consecration). This didn’t go anywhere, but eventually Provinces were set up, though without any definition of purpose or role, and with no funding. They were essentially left to do whatever the particular province felt like doing, so long as it did not impinge on anything specifically delegated to the General Convention or to dioceses or parishes by national or diocesan canons. With such a stirring mandate, it should not be surprising that Provinces have struggled to find their way. Some are more functional than others. Some struggle with geographic challenges that either inhibit full participation or overlook possible areas of common ministry (one might think Minnesota and Wisconsin would be in the same province given common overlaps in geography and culture, yet they are in different ones; some geographic challenges include Taiwan as part of Province 8; the churches in Europe and Haiti in Province II, and so on).

One thing that COD believes impairs our ability to do mission is the amount of time, money, personnel hours, and energy that is spent duplicating the same efforts again and again on the diocesan level. If we are not willing to centralize more efforts through the Church Center staff and CCABs, then perhaps the Provinces might be a place more immediate and closer to the diocesan level where we could realize efficiencies for the sake of mission. To whit,

Postulancy and Candidacy at the Provincial Level: Why do we need so many diocesan Commissions on Ministry? Do we not have the same canons for ordination across the church? How many hours are used, how many different people are paid staff coordinating, how much money is spent in travel and transportation, for dioceses with 50 congregations interviewing a handful of candidates? All other aspects of the ordination process and pastoral and disciplinary oversight for postulants and candidates would remain with diocesan bishops and Standing Committees, but have a single Provincial Commission on Ministry that interviews postulants and candidates and sends recommendations to diocesans/Standing Committees.

Christian Education and Formation at Provincial Level: How many dioceses struggle to have someone provide resources, training, and program in youth ministry? Centralize Christian Education and Formation at the Provincial level, pool all those programs scraping to get by to create one with adequate resources. Do we really need several different dioceses in the same area all struggling to support several different camps that are falling apart and not making money?

Local Ordination Training Programs at Provincial Level: The same song, third verse. Many dioceses are now experimenting with programs of local training and formation for persons who do not go to attend seminary, as well as for candidates for the diaconate. COD feels it is a tremendous waste of money and energy to have 109 diocesan seminaries. We already enough seminaries as well as Episcopal/Anglican training programs, thank you.

[Disclaimer: COD is a dean of an Episcopal seminary, believes seminaries need to be more responsive, flexible, and adaptive to needs for formation and training and would cross a thousand seas to work with a diocesan local training program. We have a competency based system of theological education in the Canons. You don’t need an MDiv, only to demonstrate competency in the areas outlined in the canons. Diocesan training programs can work; they just don’t have to struggle to do so on their own.]

We have tremendous flexibility in the canons for ordination as outlined. We got rid of allowing states to set their own tariffs and print their own currency. Let’s live into the flexibility in our canons, scrap all diocesan canons for ordination, and follow only the national canons.

Sidebar: Yes, COD knows there are significant challenges in terms of communication and distance across provinces. Crusty Old Dean’s wife is from Idaho, and he also has family in Eastern Oregon. COD is not some East Coast dude wearing an Ascot who thinks you can’t get a good martini west of Chicago. COD understands the challenges faced by geographic distance. Realigning the provinces will present some geographic challenges – individual dioceses like Montana are so huge they present these challenges, let alone provinces. This should not be the only reason not to pool functions at the Provincial Level because

--Provincial programs could itinerate. Programs could be held in different parts of the province in different years. For instance rent a different church camp on a four-year rotating basis. Might you lose some people whose diocese is further away from the camp in any given year? Probably. But would there be more benefit in having a properly resourced camp, even if it’s an extra two hours’ drive away once every few years? Or driving an extra couple of hours versus not having a camp at all?

--Embrace hybrid online learning models. Provincial formation programs could have content delivered online through a standardized curriculum, combined with local affinity groups/discussion/classes led by local facilitators. Thus people training programs in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Santa Fe could all be taking the same online class, having the same online lectures, but meet regularly with a local facilitator/instructor in their region for discussion and additional instruction. For those who may still blanche at any mention of online learning, get over it. It’s here and complaining about won’t solve anything, join in help design the best use of hybrid online learning. There would be some classes you wouldn’t do online (say, pastoral care or field education) but history, theology, Scripture, and other areas of competency could be done this way.

FYI, COD proposed something very similar to the paragraph above for a diocesan training program. In the year 2000. They didn’t take COD’s advice, but that’s OK, COD really doesn’t expect people to listen to him.

We talk again and again about having mission and ministry done at the level closest to where it happens: fair enough. But many of the networks we have are not equipped in terms of training or resources to pick up that slack and do it well. COD believes using the Provinces to centralize mission and program is a compromise: it eliminates the needless reduplication of having 109 different diocesan programs, but also keeps this important work at a level closer to dioceses. Speaking of which,


Dioceses must be reduced in number. There are simply too many dioceses that are barely viable and struggle to survive and which cannot afford bishops.

Step One: Reorganize the dioceses. Instead of having dioceses with barely 20 congregations and average Sunday attendance of 1,500 and others with over 150 congregations and over 30,000 average Sunday attendance, bring greater standardization to size of dioceses. Something like dioceses should be within 15,000-30,000 in membership and between 50-100 congregations. This will combine smaller dioceses and split larger dioceses, and reduce the burden on smaller dioceses by pooling resources.

Step Two: As part of this, come up with a solution for a fair sharing of assets: some dioceses are blessed with better endowment and financial resources than others. How can we presume to preach to the world about economic justice when some of our dioceses are part of an ecclesial 1%?

Again, this would present some logistical challenges. Places like Idaho, Utah, and Nevada might well become a single diocese. COD has two responses to this,

--yeah, and that’s how things used to be. Missionary bishops often had enormous jurisdictions (just to name two: the entire nation of the Philippines; Idaho, Utah, and Montana) in a time where the internet was the telegraph and train and stagecoach were forms of interstate travel. We did it before.

--in areas with large geography, allow for the development of intermediary areas of oversight. In the hypothetical scenario of Idaho (current diocese; excluding panhandle), Utah, and Nevada being a single diocese, there would be internal missionary districts of a mutually agreeable size and geography. Each of these would have an Archdeacon/Moderator/Dean/President, whatever – COD personally would prefer reviving the Chorepiscopus or bring back the Commissary.

More standardization in the size and shape of dioceses, along with a just sharing of finances, would bring greater equality to the church, realize efficiencies by not having reduplication of staff and program, and thus allow for more energy and resources for mission and ministry. COD realizes, of course, some dioceses may refuse to have any part in this plan, either out of selfishness or arrogance or denial or their own misguided exceptionalism. Fair enough. They may be permitted to opt out, however they will have their General Convention deputations reduced by half.

Almost there. We still have theological education and parishes in upcoming postings, and then Crusty Old Dean will have to find something else to vent about.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ecumenical Autumn, Part 3 of 3

Crusty Old Dean concludes his three-part series of reflections on the ecumenical movement -- and in this concluding chapter of the trilogy, you won't find out that COD is really Luke's father or Benedict XVI's cousin. No surprises of that kind here.

Next week, Crusty Old Dean will be deep-frying a turkey and finishing two further proposals for restructuring the Episcopal Church, along with a trip down restructuring memory lane.


“Harvesting the Fruits: Ecumenical Autumn, Not Ecumenical Winter”

The Very Rev’d Thomas Ferguson, PhD

Part 3 of 3


In our last section, I would like to begin to look forward: I have used the image of an ecumenical autumn rather than an ecumenical winter. Autumn is a time of harvest. It is a time of preparation for what is coming. Autumn isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s part of the cycle of nature, and to avoid preparation for what is to come is nothing if foolish.

I think we are being called in the ecumenical movement to this ecumenical autumn: harvest the incredible fruits of the past century, being aware of what issues have and continue still to divide us, while at the same time preparing for what is to come.

I'd like to talk first about transformations.

8. First Transformation: Involvement of Lay Persons and Young People

As we've discussed, the ecumenical movement followed the broader pattern of development of American religious organizations, tracking, more or less, with how denominations developed structure in this country. Since the way organizations function is changing, the ecumenical movement’s organizations will need to change. A key piece of that process of change will be helping to restore to the ecumenical movements some of its essential aspects which has lost along the way.

One of the main reason the ecumenical movement began to thrive and flourish is because it was driven in large part by lay persons. John Mott, whom I mentioned earlier and who won the Nobel Prize for his pioneering ecumenical work, was a lay person in the Methodist Church. It was also a movement which involved young persons: the World Student Christian Federation was a major part of the spread of ecumenism.

We've reversed that. The ecumenical movement, in its formal structures, is old and clerical when it comes to the folks involved. And I mean old. I'm 42 and I'm often the youngest person in ecumenical gatherings -- and outside of ecumenical gatherings I'm considered ancient by people under 30. I'll admit, I kind of like having one place left where I'm still considered young. It will allow me to transition from Young Turk to curmudgeon fairly seamlessly.

The ecumenical movement no longer reflects the world or our churches: it skews overwhelmingly old, and overwhelmingly clerical. When something like this is so markedly different from the way society as a whole is composed, it means something is out of kilter. Now I'm not saying we should completely mirror society: but if any corporation or organization or club you belonged to was so white and old as our churches, let alone leadership in our churches, you'd be asking yourselves what their problem is. But more often as not we don't give it a second thought when it comes to the church, or else we shrug our shoulders and don't even think of doing anything.

So what happened to a movement that had broad lay and clerical support? The ecumenical movement became formalized, institutionalized, professionalized, and closely linked with denominations. It began to reflect the leadership of denominations which professionalized and organized it rather than the church and the world it was called to serve.

We need to flip that dynamic: the ecumenical movement needs to become younger and less clerical. How can we do that?

We cannot simply invite people to the ecumenical movement as it is now currently structured, because they will not come. We don't need to ask the world to change to accommodate the ecumenical movement; the ecumenical movement needs to change to meet the world at least half way.

11. Transforming Ecumenical Institutions

As part of this – all of these issues are interconnected -- we need to begin the process of rethinking and transitioning a lot of our ecumenical organizations. They are wonderful and have done incredible things in the past fifty years. But so did organizations like the Anglo-Catholic Congress, the Federal Council of Churches, the Women’s Auxiliary to the Board of Missions, the Congress for the Advancement of the Interests of Labor, the Evangelical Alliance, the Anti-Saloon League, and so on. And none of those things exist anymore, and some of us may never even have heard of any of them. They were organizations which were popular in their time, into which denominations invested a tremendous amount of financial backing and staffing, and served important functions. But society and the church changed, and they ceased to exist, while some of their functions and mission were taken up by other organizations.

Institutions change all the time, despite the concern many of us have about change. So with that out of the way, how might we rethink some of our institutions?

Rethinking Ecumenical Organizations

As part of that we need to reshape the institutions and hand off the institutions we have in turn received and created in this postwar cycle of ecumenism. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. We stand in a critical place. The generation of people under 30 is as big as the Baby Boomer generation. Granted they are a smaller percentage of the population than the Boomers since the country is so much bigger, but there is a whole new generation out there. What institutions and legacies will we pass on to them? Or will they all just die they will invent their own and forget about ours, going the way of forgotten predecessors?

This question of reshaping and handing on our ecumenical institutions in turn touches upon other issues and brings us back to some of our previous conversation about the need to attract more young people and young adults into the ecumenical movement.

I will not use proper names lest it look like I am picking on any one institution; this story is about one of the broadest ecumenical gatherings I used to go to as ecumenical officer for the Episcopal Church, one where Orthodox, Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, and many other denominations have good representation.

As part of this they hold a program for young people and young adults. In preparing to go one year, I did manage to collect a handful of young seminarians to attend. I warned them in advance: there will be things you like about this gathering and things you don’t; keep track of each and let’s talk afterwards.

We did talk afterwards. They all agreed on their likes and dislikes.

Like: the opportunity to be around so many other young people from so many different traditions. You know, though at times we may be irked that young people don’t come to church more often, we can’t forget something important: it can be hard to be a young person of faith. It was a great experience for these young adults to be around people that, well, were like them.

Dislike: the program was all oriented to what the larger body was doing. A lot of these seminarians came because they were interested in ecumenism and interreligious relations, and some were already engaged in projects at their seminary and in their community. Nobody asked them what they were interested in accomplishing in the ecumenical movement. Nobody asked them what, if any, ecumenical things they were already engaged in. They were told the meeting wasn't about interreligious work, that was something a different organization did. When they asked how they could get more involved, they were told to be in touch with their denominational ecumenical office.

After their input I said to them, “The problem with most ecumenical organizations is their idea of engaging young adults is inviting them to the kids’ table.”

To become younger and have more lay persons involved, we need to be co-creators of mission with people instead of grafting them into something others created.

Return to Mission

Not only will the ecumenical movement need to return to its roots of being primarily a non-clerical, lay movement, it will also need to recapture the spirit of mission.

This return to mission is crucial for a number of reasons. Once is that it can help is get past the issues we discussed in our previous session. We either need to decide whether issues are church-dividing, or not. If they are, then what kind of division does that mean? What kind of cooperation is still possible? Are the needs of the world so great that we cannot work together against war, poverty, and injustice because we have disagreements in theological anthropology?

We can’t give in and say it can’t be done because we disagree on sexuality or abortion. For one thing, because there are some things the Scriptures are quite clear about. For another, it was not long ago when we were able to come together despite theological differences. At a time when many of our denominations did not have the ecumenical agreements or concordats in place that we have now and which facilitate our cooperation, we found places to work together despite our differences. For instance it may be ancient history to some that the historic 1963 March on Washington, where Dr King gave his “I Have a Dream Speech,” was co-sponsored and organized by the National Council of Churches. The civil rights movement brought together a broad coalition of Protestant, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Jewish organizations in a common struggle, crossing denominational and religious boundaries as well as those caste systems of race and class which we discussed in our previous session. We can't say it can't be done, because it has been done, time and again. We can only admit that we are unwilling or unable or are paralyzed by those other divisions I talked about.

Goal and Project Oriented

I think the ecumenical movement is going to need to be focused more on immediate goals. This is in part how the world increasingly works these days and how the Millennial Generation is more wired to think about how things get done.

Organizations that you just join and participate in and write a mission statement and trust that they will more or less do that – that's something we're going to see less and less and organizations serve a different role and function. People aren't just going to join church because their parents and friends join it and because it's what you do. They will, however, if we can show what the church, or an ecumenical organization does. They will if we make the connection between what they believe in, the difference they want to make in the world, and how we fit into that.

Look at the people who are winning the Nobel Peace Prize: this year, activists who helped mobilize grassroots support of women in Liberia against the civil war. A couple of years ago, a Kenyan woman who became an advocate for environmental protection; before that, a man who developed microfinancing to help impoverished people in the developing world. Not people who build vast international organizations, like John Mott or appear on the cover of Time magazine, like Charles Henry Brent.

The ecumenical movement needs to look at the people who are making the change in the world they believe in, learn from those models, and engage our constituencies in new and different ways.

Ecumenical Agreements as Bridges and Lifeboats

Our ecumenical agreements are important resources as we move into this time of change and transformation in the ecumenical movement; they can give us the kind of help we need to make the choices and decisions we will need to make. These agreements are part of the link between ecumenism and mission.

Called to Common Mission, the agreement between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. Most of this first decade has been living into those aspects of the agreement that were the most talked about as it was being drafted, voted on, and implemented: the interchangeability of ministries, the way in which ELCA bishops would gradually, over time, be incorporated into the historic episcopate.

All well and good. But for my money, that's not what CCM is all about. It is, at its heart, an eschatological and pneumatological document.

The agreements in ministry and bishops are not the end; it is a beginning. As CCM itself says,

We do not know to what new, recovered, or continuing tasks of mission this Concordat will lead our churches, but we give thanks to God for leading us to this point. We entrust ourselves to that leading in the future, confident that our full communion will be a witness to the gift and goal already present in Christ, "so that God may be all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:28). Entering full communion and thus removing limitations through mutual recognition of faith, sacraments, and ministries will bring new opportunities and levels of shared evangelism, witness, and service. It is the gift of Christ that we are sent as he has been sent (John 17:17-26), that our unity will be received and perceived as we participate together in the mission of the Son in obedience to the Father through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

There has been a spate of full communion agreements between churches in the past fifteen years or so. ELCA with UCC, PCUSA, and RCA; ELCA and Episcopal; Episcopal-Moravian and ELCA-Moravian; ELCA and UMC. The UMC and Episcopal Church are engaged in dialogue.

Sometimes the question is asked, “What are all these agreements for? Are they just agreements on paper?”

One of my replies is, “Maybe. For now.”

Sometimes I think our full communion agreements will be a bridge, maybe even a lifeboat, to the churches that we will bequeath to the coming generations. Our denominations are not sustainable as they are currently organized. Some, like the Moravian Church with its roughly 50,000 members, are already asking questions about whether they will exist in another generation.

Churches are hemorrhaging members, and, let's be clear, this is only tangentially related to theological stances. Of all the denominations in the USA last year, only four recorded growth. Four. Out of the thousands in this country. One is the Catholic Church, and that grew by less than 1% in 2010. One of the others is the Mormon Church, which has also seen its growth slow. Liberal and conservative, liturgical and non liturgical, evangelical and non evangelical, almost uniformly and across the board.

It seems clear to me we need to reorient ourselves with a massive campaign from top to bottom. Have congregations that are mission communities instead of closed communities with chaplains ministering to their needs. Where clergy are not employees delivering services and program but mobilizing people for ministry. Take seriously commitments to Christian Education, formation, youth ministry, campus ministry. Continue to provide pastoral care to those in a world which can seem capricious and cruel.

I could go on. We need many things, but what we don't need is a bunch of struggling denominations doing them separately; that will just result in a long, slow death rattle to obscurity and irrelevancy, and our transformation into a post-Christian society like many parts of Europe, with its beautiful, empty Cathedrals and 5% of the population attending church.

We can't do what needs to be done individually.

One solution would be a Church of North India-like model for those American denominations that share enough in terms of background, theology, and liturgy. The Church of North India brought together Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Congregationalist, and Anglicans. There weren't a lot of Lutherans in India, and for those that were, confessional identity was too important to allow for merger. The CNI brought these churches together into a single structure with a single ministry but allowed for regional variation; churches which affiliated with a particular theological identity or liturgy were permitted to use those resources. CNI churches from the Presbyterian tradition could study and emphasize their confessional heritage, but within the context of a single church, with a single governing structure, single regional expression, and single ministry. The CNI and CSI are even multiple members of world bodies, holding membership in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Anglican Communion.

I had the chance to meet the former Moderator-Primate of the Church of South India (NOT tainted by the corruption scandal over tsunami relief) and asked him how this was done, when we in the West struggle so hard and so long for even any kind of unity. He looked at me and said, “Two reasons. One, in a country where only 2% of the people are Christian, we simply could not have so many denominations doing their own thing. More importantly – “ and he looked me straight in the eye, “the divisions were the ones the missionaries brought us, not our own. The divisions were yours, not ours.”

I believe our full communion arrangements may a bridge, or a lifeboat, to help us move into that future church that we will need. We won't need to have to start from scratch; we have the eschatological vision and framework of full communion proposals already in place. Ten years into full communion between Lutherans and Episcopalians, there has been much that we have done together. One thing we absolutely must do together in the next 20 years is greater institutional collaboration, between dioceses and synods, between our institutions of theological learning, between our churchwide expressions.

There is a related dynamic with Roman Catholics – though there is not the proliferation of full communion proposals, there will still need to decisions made about how much to live into the agreements which are in place. Will it be possible to move Catholic-Orthodox relations into some kind of more visible unity, so overcome not just centuries but millennia of mistrust?

Is there a way ecumenical agreements with Anglicans, Lutherans, and Protestants might be the kind of lifeboat or bridge to a new way of being church? Pope John Paul II, in his landmark encyclical Ut Unum Sint, called on dialogue for the ways a universal primacy might be in the service of Christian unity. Almost twenty years later, have we given that call its proper hearing?

As mentioned in my previous comments, as we address the issues before us, it may be that we acknowledge that visible unity between Catholics and non-Catholics is not possible in the foreseeable future. Should we acknowledge that, without giving up on the quest for the unity to which we are called, while at the same time finding ways to demonstrate our common witness? I think we lose more opportunities than we give ourselves credit; during the leadup to the Iraq War, I remember a meeting between President Bush and the Holy Father. As Pope John Paul spoke his concerns, I remember thinking, “He's speaking for me, too – could this be a way in which universal primacy could be in the service of common witness?”


It's my conviction we are in an ecumenical autumn – and that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Autumn can be a time of melancholy, a reflection on the coming death that impending winter may bring. But only if we see death as an end, which we, as Christians, ought not to fear. As Christians, we believe death is a portal to something new, death is transformation. Autumn is a time of change and transformation: and there can be beauty in transformation.

I hope I will not leave you with the impression that I am discouraged, or even downhearted, about the future of the ecumenical movement. Far from it. I was at a conference recently were a speaker was lamenting the “end of the church,” arguing that this was a real possibility in the next generation.

While I agreed in general with the causes for the speaker's alarm – in fact, the speaker was sharing many of the same reflections I have been sharing with you today about the process of decline in American denominations – I did not draw the same conclusion.

What we are facing is not the end of the church, we should be clear about that. If anything could have destroyed the church, it would have. The horrors of the 20th century, from the Holocaust to the World Wars, could make anyone lose hope for humanity, let alone Christianity. Mao and Stalin persecuted the Christian Church to the brink of extinction. At one time in Russia there were a handful of bishops and priests left in the entire country. Both countries are seeing a phenomenal rebirth and renaissance in Christianity. The Black Death couldn't destroy the church, neither could barbarian invasions, neither could the persecution of the Romans. The church cannot be destroyed because we have the continual and abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. However because the church cannot be destroyed does not mean it cannot die and reborn. But it will take determination and courage. As we move forward in this process of transformation and rebirth, may we keep in mind the words of the hymn that may be familiar to many of us:

God of grace and God of glory, on thy people pour thy power;

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ecumenical Autumn: Part 2

For those on the edge of their seats, COD unveils this week's installment of reflections on the ecumenical movement...for part 1, go here.

Harvesting the Fruits: Ecumenical Autumn, Not Ecumenical Winter”

The Very Rev’d Thomas Ferguson, PhD

5. PART 2:

In this part of our time together, I would like to look at some of the issues which are dividing our communions – maybe not the classic faith & order ones, but those that have always been there, and maybe those that the ecumenical movement has not found a way to address over the past century; along with some issues which are newer and have emerged in past decades.

As we prepare to look at these questions, I remind us all of a text which has been an important one for me in thinking about what is church dividing. It comes from H. Richard Niebuhr's classic, Social Sources of American Denominationalism:

Denominationalism in Christian Church is an acknowledged hypocrisy. It is a compromise made far too lightly, between Christianity and the world. It represents the accommodation of Christianity to the caste system of society.”

The accommodation of Christianity to the caste system of society. These words have resonated for me because I find them to be true, particularly in our American context, and that the ecumenical movement, despite all its successes, has not managed to change that reality.

Lest we think any of the issues or concerns we will be talking about in this session are particularly modern ones, recall that Niebuhr's work was first published in 1929.

This is what I hope to do here: realizing one cannot do justice to these issues, and this is not meant to be complete or exhaustive. And this is not just a thought experiment; it is something that has been a major component of the Episcopal Church's dialogue with the United Methodist Church, to begin to model how we might start looking at some of the issues we'll be exploring today, one which I think the ecumenical movement as a whole needs to become more involved in.

A. Race and Racism

Let's take one of the oldest issues which divides American Christians: race and racism. The question of racism is one which pervades all American religions in some way, given the way that race has played out in our broader history. Again, this is part of the way in which churches respond to and adapt to the broader cultural environment. Race has been an important component in the history of the United States; naturally and logically it has also been something which has affected the churches in the United States.

This dynamic has played itself out historically in two ways: one is the way in which race has divided Christians one from the other. The second is how racism has divided churches internally.

Let's take the second one first: how race has divided churches internally. After the American Revolution, each Christian denomination had to come to grips with the question of race and slavery. Some, such as Quakers and Unitarians, largely supported abolition. Some changed their system to accommodate to slavery: for instance, early Methodism initially forbade slaveowners as members, until eventually changing those rules to allow for slaveholders to be members. Others took a middle ground, accepting it as the law of the land and having both slaveholding and abolitionist elements within their churches.

But race very quickly became a church dividing question; for example, the different choices made by Abasalom Jones and Richard Allen. Both were members of St George’s Methodist Church in Philadelphia when told to go sit in the slave gallery by the white members. Both left. Allen did not believe African Americans would be treated equally in white churches, and so formed a separate denomination: the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Jones instead formed St Thomas Church and was ordained in the Episcopal Church in 1804, becoming the first African American ordained in ANY predominantly white denomination in the US. However, there was a catch: St Thomas Church and Fr Jones were given voice, but not vote, in the diocese of Pennsylvania.

Thus racism was a cause of division: originally within the Methodist tradition, resulting in the formation of predominantly black Methodist denominations. A similar process would occur with Baptist and Reformed traditions, with predominantly African American Presbyterian and Baptist churches formed, often the direct result of discrimination from the original, predominantly white church.

In addition, race and racism would also result in schisms within religious traditions. The Southern Baptist Convention broke off over slavery and slaveholding. The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, split from the Methodist Episcopal Church, as did the Presbyterians. The Episcopal Church did not split over slavery prior to the Civil War, but did split over secession, with the former of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States.

Concurrently, within some predominantly white denominations, there was the phenomenon of separate and unequal jurisdictions for African Americans. Denominations would create non-geographic jurisdictions for African American congregations; this would, in fact, be a condition of merger in 1939 between the Northern and Southern branches of the Methodist Church, that all African American congregations be grouped into a separate, non-geographic jurisdiction separate from white churches. A proposal for a similar non-geographic diocese for African Americans would be proposed (and defeated) in every General Convention of the Episcopal Church up until the year 1940.

These divisions have taken a long time to heal in some cases; the different branches of the Presbyterian Church, for instance, did not reunite until 1982. The internal divisions are in many cases still present, though the de facto segregation is no longer official policy.

Questions of race and racism thus have had a long and pernicious history. And the reality is that they are still with us today: the Episcopal Church and the ELCA are overwhelmingly white churches. The Roman Catholic Church is more diverse, specifically with regard to Hispanic/Latino ministries, but still counts only 3% of its members as African American. The most segregated place in America remains Sunday morning. The racism of our past continues to shape our churches today.

B. Class Consciousness:

Issues of social class have also been church dividing, though it is at times a bit more difficult to lay out exactly how this dynamic has played itself out. Less so in formal theological documents, but one which comes up often in letters, diaries, and other correspondence.

Example: Anglican-Methodist relations in the 1780s and 1790s. Members of the Methodist societies tended to draw perhaps disproportionately from what we would call middle class and working class families in the UK and in America – though of course there were well-to-do Methodists and working class Anglicans, we are talking about overall trends here.

Let's take the two founders of Methodism and Anglicanism in the USA as examples of this divide:

Francis Asbury was the son of what we would now call a landscaper or day laborer, and Francis himself was apprenticed at a chape-maker, someone who made buckles and other small metallic things. He joined a Methodist society at age 16, never had any formal theological training, and became a lay preacher. John Wesley set aside Thomas Coke as a “superintendent” for the colonies, and sent him over to ordain Asbury. Asbury insisted that American Methodists gathered at their organizing conference choose their presiding officer. Thomas Coke, a gentleman, priest of the Church of England, and graduate of Oxford, simply assumed he would preside. The Conference selected Asbury, a man with no formal training, son of a day laborer, himself a journeyman laborer.

William White was born into a wealthy, landed family. His grandfather has been mayor of Philadelphia. He attended the University of Pennsylvania. His brother in law was Robert Morris, a signer of the declaration of Independence and one of the wealthiest men in the colonies.

The two men came from different backgrounds and different social standings, and they were well aware of the differences themselves.

This trajectory would play itself out over the course of most of the 19th century: the Episcopal Church would tend to skew towards upper middle class, while the Methodist Church would skew more towards broadly middle class. The Episcopal Church would demand high educational standards, including Greek and Latin, which would make ordination unattainable for some.

There is a similar dynamic at times with Roman Catholicism in the 19th and 20th centuries, eliciting visceral reaction from white Protestants in this country. Catholicism in the 19th century was caricatured as predominantly poor, immigrant, and urban. As Ken Burns pointed out in his most recent documentary on Prohibition, the Temperance movement itself was infused with nativist, anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, and racist overtones. White, rural Protestants saw alcoholism as a scourge brought by foreigners in their Catholic Churches in the cities. Catholics were for years derided as being somehow un-American; tyranny and papacy were seen to be contrary to freedom and America. When the first Roman Catholic was nominated for the presidency, Governor Al Smith of New York in 1928, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross as his campaign train rolled by. Most people may not have known the first thing about transubstantiation. It was in reality a myriad of other issues which divided Catholics and non-Catholics in reality.

C. Globalization

We all may be a little tired of hearing it, but we live in an age of globalization: the world is a much smaller place. How does that impact us as churches?

° Because several of our churches are global churches. The Roman Catholic Church is an international body, the largest Christian communion in the world, scattered across hundreds of countries and cultures. The Anglican Communion and the Lutheran World Federation are close behind – the second and third largest and most widespread Christian communions. We are global churches in a global world.

° Globalization affects the way our churches handle conflict. The ordination of women and the ordination of gay and lesbian persons in the church is an apt example. In both the LWF and the Anglican Communion, different member churches have made different decisions on the ordination of women. Because of globalization, specifically advancement in communications technology, what may have taken months or perhaps even years to trickle to the end of our communions now takes minutes. This has sped up the pace of conflict.

° Globalization has also laid bare some of the nascent and simmering conflict that was waiting to come out into the open.

° We are reaping the winds of post-colonialism. The center of Christianity is shifting to Asia and Africa, and away from Europe and North America, in terms of numbers and in terms of vitality. African Anglicans, indeed, have proclaimed the United States a mission field, in need of re-evangelization. I happen to agree with them on that one, though for different reasons. These effects of post-colonialism have implications for our understandings of our churches as part of global communions. Having told many people a generation or two ago that they were heathen and in need of the Gospel, these same persons in Asia and Africa resent that the West, at times, seems to be telling them they are mistaken again.

D. Gender

Gender is another major church dividing issue, specifically the place and role of women in leadership in the church. Like race, this issue has not only divided churches, but also been internally-church dividing.

In 1976, the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada both agreed to permit the ordination of women to the diaconate and the priesthood. This had a ripple effect in ecumenical conversations; the Polish National Catholic Church suspended its intercommunion and interchangeability of clergy in 1978. The Orthodox Churches announced they would continue their theological dialogue with Anglicans, but no longer with a goal of unity, but rather for deeper mutual understanding. The Roman Catholic Church has continued in its dialogues with those churches that ordain women, while at the same time reaffirming and in fact clarifying and strengthening the understanding of its own inability to permit the ordination of women. Yet, at the same time acknowledging how this is a church dividing issue, the Catholic Church set up a Pastoral Provision in 1980 in the United States to allow for Episcopal priests who could not accept the ordination of women to be ordained in the Catholic Church. More recently, the Vatican has approved the formation of an Ordinariate for Anglicans, to allow for entire groups or congregations to be received into full ecclesial communion with the Catholic Church. Within the Catholic Church, despite the clarification of the church's ability to ordain women to the priesthood, this continues to be a source of tension and conflict in Europe and North America both internally within the Roman Catholic Church, as well as between the Catholic Church and its ecumenical partners.

6. Human Sexuality

Human sexuality has become a church dividing issue in a similar way: that this is not only a church dividing issue between Christian communions, but a church dividing issue within churches.

Thus, for instance, the Russian Orthodox Church suspended all bilateral dialogues and cooperation with the Episcopal Church after the consecration of an openly gay man in a committed partnership, Gene Robinson, as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. Not only that, the Russian Orthodox Church later refused to meet with a delegation from the National Council of Churches which had an Episcopal bishop in the delegation. This is ironic, since the Bishop in question was one implacably opposed to the ordination of gays and lesbians in the Episcopal Church. The Roman Catholic Church has continued its dialogues with Anglicans, even those Anglicans which have ordained gay and lesbian persons to the ministry, despite the reaffirmation in the Catholic Church that openly gay persons may not serve in the priesthood. I was sitting next to Archbishop William Levada in 2003 at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church when the House of Deputies consented to the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop-elect of New Hampshire. I turned to him and said, “I hope this does not mean that our churches will not remain in dialogue. I think we need this dialogue more than ever.” Archbishop Levada replied, “When you one church dividing issue, and you have made the commitment to remain in dialogue, does it matter how many you have?”

The matter was also church-dividing within the family. There are currently four entire dioceses which are trying to secede from the Episcopal Church over the question of human sexuality. A number of member provinces of the Anglican Communion have declared themselves in varying degrees of “impaired communion” with the Episcopal Church. Representatives of the Episcopal Church have been removed from the international ecumenical dialogues of the Anglican Communion; for me, this is personal. I was appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to serve on the International Anglican-Orthodox dialogue; in 2010 I was removed from this dialogue.

The ELCA is in some ways in the same place as the Episcopal Church was a few years ago: struggling internally with synods and congregations opposed to the decisions made at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, while at the same time dealing with other LWF members who are adamantly opposed to the decisions to ordain gay and lesbian persons as pastors and to permit same sex blessings.

6. Conclusion to Part 2

Feel better? I once gave a lecture on race and racism in American religion, and someone came up to me afterwards and said, “I didn't come here to have you just make us all feel bad.” I thanked her, because that was exactly my intention. For far too long Christianity in America has ignored what are really church dividing issues.

In the end, however, we don’t need to feel bad: this is not where the story ends. I think the ecumenical movement needs to address some of the issues mentioned in this section as part of its renewal and rebirth.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ecumenical Autumn: Part 1

For those of you who have been wondering what Crusty Old Dean does in his spare time -- I gave a series of talks in Michigan and Alabama in October and early November, musing on the past, present, and future of the ecumenical movement. I've broken those talks up into three parts, and will be rolling them out in the next few days, while fine-tuning some future posts on structure & the Episcopal Church.

“Harvesting the Fruits: Ecumenical Autumn, Not Ecumenical Winter”

The Very Rev’d Thomas Ferguson, PhD


I began my work in the Ecumenical Office back in July of 2001, and came to Bexley Hall in July of 2011 -- and thus spent just one week shy of ten full years to the day working for the Presiding Bishop’s office. If you do the math, you can also tell I only got one week’s vacation from finishing one job before beginning another, and, since that week involved moving, it really wasn’t a a vacation at all. But I digress.

From 2001-2009 I was assistant ecumenical officer. The main focus of my work was the Episcopal Church’s full communion partnerships with the ELCA and Old Catholics, along with bilateral dialogues with the Orthodox, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Moravians. From 2009-2010 I was Interim Ecumenical Officer, and from 2010-2011 Ecumenical Officer, where my work more or less included all aspects of our ecumenical and interreligious partnerships as well as participation in ecumenical organizations such as the World Council of Churches, National Council of Churches, and Christian Churches Together, among others.

So for the past ten years I lived and breathed the ecumenical movement. And it has been an interesting time, one which has been marked by transition: some of the great leaders of the movement, such as Avery Dulles from the Roman Catholic Church, Louis Mudge from the Presbyterian Church, Paul Crow from the Disciples of Christ, Pope John Paul II, and others either retired or passed into the next life. It's been a time of change, yet also one which has been pervaded, at times, but a tinge of nostalgia for days gone by. The flush of ecumenism in the 1950s and 1960s, when so much was accomplished, with visions of even more things as possible, seems to many to be so long ago.

At times there also seems to be a sense in the churches that ecumenism has seen its better days. Or maybe it's just that the church seems obsessed with other things; how often, after all, does talk of ecumenism or ecumenical cooperation pervade the overall, mainstream discourse in our churches? It may be surprising to know that a leading ecumenist, John Mott, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in helping to bring Christian denominations together. A Lutheran bishop also won the Nobel Peace Prize, largely in part due to his work in helping to bring the ecumenical movement into being in the 20th century. Or that two different Episcopal bishops appeared on the cover of Time magazine, largely as a result of their pioneering work in ecumenical dialogues? The days when Christians get mainstream recognition for ecumenical cooperation shows, in some ways, just how long ago that flush of ecumenism was. Our churches seem more preoccupied or obsessed with other matters. Ecumenism is seen by many as having fallen on hard times. In some places ecumenism even seems to be a dirty word, as if it’s a compromise of some kind that threatens our identity or even our very existence. Or, to put it another way: As my wife said when I told her they had offered me the job as Dean of Bexley Hall, she said, “You sure know how to pick growth industries – moving from ecumenism and national staff to theological education.”

In my ten years on the job as various incarnations of the ecumenical officer, I heard something with increased frequency as the years went by. Reflecting, perhaps, some people’s impression of where the ecumenical movement was going, some of those feelings I outlined above, it seems that I heard the term the term “ecumenical winter” more and more frequently as that decade as ecumenical officer went on. The reason for that “ecumenical winter” seemed to differ depending on context, but it seemed to come up with more frequency. Indicating, perhaps, that the best days were behind and we were entering a lean time in our ecumenical partnerships, or maybe even a kind of death.

I have to say I never really agreed with that. We are certainly in for some change and transition in our ecumenical partnerships and relations, but I do not think it is winter: winter sort of implies something has died. Ecumenism has not died. In fact, it's succeeded so fabulously that we are at times victims of its success. But more on that later.

Rather I think we are in an Ecumenical Autumn: a time of harvesting, a time of taking stock, a time to do some preparation for a future we know is coming. I want to take this as one of the overall themes for our time together. I think in some ways the work of Edward Gibbon and his “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” exerted a bad influence on notions of institutional development. History and human constructs like empires and denominations do not always follow a rise, flowering, decline, and fall model. If anything, history is as much cyclical as linear. I don't think ecumenism necessarily follows along a perceived rise and fall model, either – in fact, its history has shown us something quite different. Ecumenism has gone through a series of very different cycles or modes of existence, rather than rising and falling.

Rather than the rise, glory days, decline, and fall of Ecumenism, I think we are entering a time of harvesting from this phase in the movement and preparing for the future. But unlike the seasons, perhaps ecumenism does not have to go sequentially from birth to flowering to withering and dying. I think, with enough care, attention, honesty, and prayer, we can move towards an ecumenical spring: what we harvest now can be sown to arise as something new.


So I'd like to structure our time together in three parts: corresponding, roughly, to past, present, and future.

First off: how did we get here?

Then: What matters are dividing our churches right now?

And lastly: Harvesting the Fruits


We can broadly outline several distinct phases of the ways churches cooperated with one another, different “modes” of the ecumenical movement:

Prehistory: from the American Revolution to the Civil War. This was a period of rapid expansion of American society across the Alleghenies and adaptation to the new cultural and political context. With regards to inter-church cooperation, there were the formation of what were called “voluntary organizations.” These were groups which different churches joined to accomplish specific purposes. The American Bible Society; American Board of Missions; Abolitionist organizations; Women's Christian Temperance Union; the Evangelical Alliance; and so on. These were Christians working across denominational boundaries in places of common cause, in organizations that did not have formal ties to any one particular denomination, though certain denominations did tend to dominate certain groups. This was in part because churches themselves had minimal organizational structures, there was nothing evenly remotely like a denominational organization or staffing like we have today. Internally, the work of churches was done almost exclusively at the local levels. Externally, individuals formed these voluntary organizations in which churches participated. It was a participatory model, focused largely on mission and education and reform causes.

Civil War and beyond: with the Civil War and decades afterwards, additional issues and problems emerged as American society grew larger and more complex. Voluntary organizations could no longer carry all the freight, so more formal organizations were established – both ecumenical in nature and denominationally based. Take the massive mobilization of society needed for the Civil War: the American Sanitary Commission was founded to organize, collect money, buy medical supplies, and recruit nurses. It had a strong participation of denominations, and its president was a clergyman. The Red Cross is another example, initially begun as more or less what we would call a faith-based organization, ecumenical in nature, because, well, faith-based organizations tended to dominate health care in the 1800s.

You'll see some parallel processing here: as the churches begin to form into denominations, with organization and structure, more formal ecumenical partnerships start to emerge. There is the establishment of an ecumenical common Sunday School Curriculum at the same time denominations are forming Christian Education organizations, for instance. There is the increased work of ecumenical mission societies – the Christianization of the world in this generation! - at the same time denominations formed their own missionary organizations, often with full-time, paid staff. Churches will become involved in forming groups like the American Colonization Society while also forming denominationally based schools and organizations to held freed African Americans in the USA.

Note: this is still a largely a Protestant party with descendants of European churches sprinkled with some home-grown American denominations like the Disciples of Christ. The Orthodox have not yet arrived in appreciable numbers. Roman Catholics have, but are largely setting up its own parallel structures. The Episcopal Church also at times tended to set up parallel organizations, for instance not joining the American Bible Society or American Board of Missions.

Birth of the Modern Ecumenical Movement: The modern ecumenical movement is usually reckoned to have begun in 1910 at the Global Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, a direct outgrowth of global mission work. This conference was called to talk about better cooperation and collaboration in the global mission field; it was considered scandalous to have multiple denominations setting up shop in different parts of the world and coming into conflict with one another. There were even different expressions within denominational families competing with one another. For instance, different groups of Anglican arrived in China, different groups of Methodists arrived in India, different factions of Baptists in different parts of Africa, let alone conflict between these groups for converts. There was an obvious need for better cooperation and collaboration, both practically and as a sign of common witness. How could we convert people to Christianity if we set the example of fighting between ourselves?

However, delegates to the Conference also began to raise the issue that cooperation was not enough; churches needed to understand one another better. In particular two leaders, one Lutheran and one Anglican, emerged. There was the decision at the 1910 Conference to set up continuation groups which would explore the issues raised in greater depth, both in examining theological differences and in exploring better cooperation and collaboration. Bishop Charles Henry Brent of the Episcopal Church took the lead in organizing what would eventually become Conference on Faith and Order in 1927, to look at theological and ecclesiological differences. Archbishop Nathan Söderblom of Lutheran Church of Sweden would preside over the first Conference on Life and Work in 1925, to look at areas of witness, mission, and cooperation.

Post War Movement: Though momentum was briefly stayed by the First World War and later the Second World War, the essential groundwork for what would become the World Council of Churches had been laid in the mid-1930s but had to be postponed. In the post-World War II ecumenical movement, we see the formation of national and international ecumenical organizations. This, again, was a time of parallel processing: at the same time organizations like the UN, IMF, and other international organizations were being formed, so were ecumenical organizations like the World Council of Churches and National Council of Churches. Concurrently, some communions began to understand themselves as part of global communions, in particular the formation of LWF and World Methodist Council and increased sensitivity to the Anglican Communion to being parts of a global church. All the while denominations were creating more infrastructure to manage their own commitments, and the birth of what we might now begin to recognize as denominational staffs. So it should come as no surprise that during this period, Christian communions begin to appoint specific persons and groups for ecumenical work. The first Ecumenical Officer of the Episcopal Church was appointed in 1961, and Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity was established shortly thereafter, and so on. Mentioning the PCPCU lead me to:

Entry of Roman Catholic Church: The other crucial component to the post-World War II development of the ecumenical movement is the engagement of the Roman Catholic Church with the ecumenical movement. The Second Vatican Council was held from 1962-1965 and included several significant events for ecumenism. The Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redeintegratio; the Decree on Relations with the Jewish People and non-Christian religions, Nostra Aetatae; the formation of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; and, while not becoming a formal member, the participation of the Catholic Church in the Faith and Order work of the WCC and NCC and in other areas, for example interfaith relations. The ecumenical movement could not truly call itself ecumenical without the engagement of the largest and most historic church in Christendom.

The post-WW II phase of the ecumenical movement inaugurated a productive season in the ecumenical movement: with the involvement of the Roman Catholic Church, national and international dialogues proliferated, with the participation and engagement in particular of the LWF, Anglican Communion, Orthodox Churches, and Roman Catholic Church. Lutheran-Catholic, Anglican-Lutheran, Anglican-Orthodox, Catholic-Orthodox, Lutheran-Orthodox. I am confining myself to these specific mentions given that this is a conference of Anglicans, Lutherans, and Catholics, but by no means were the dialogues solely undertaken by our member communions. A treasure trove of agreed statements were issued.

It was not just all talk, either: visible, organic unity was reached among a number of Christians. There were numerous church mergers. Three different churches merged to form the United Church of Christ in 1958. Numerous different Lutheran expressions merged to form three main expressions of Lutheranism: the Lutheran Church in America, LCA; American Lutheran Church, ALC; alongside the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, LCMS, which remained part of ecumenical conversations with the LCA and ALC until the 1970s. The northern and southern branches of Methodism which merged in 1939 merged with the Evangelical United Brethren to form the United Methodist Church in 1968. This was not only an American phenomenon: perhaps the greatest results of this flowering of ecumenism was the formation of the Church of North India and the Church of South India, which brought together most of the Anglican and Protestant mission groups in India. Anglicans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, and others merged to form these two churches.

There would be bilateral agreements reached between many Christian communions, including some here in this room. Christian Church/Disciples and the UCC; ELCA and Episcopal Church; ELCA-Moravian and Episcopal-Moravian; ELCA-Reformed.

Perhaps the culmination of this flowering of postwar ecumenism was the Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry Statement of issued by the Faith and Order Commission in 1982. BEM has been described as perhaps the most important ecumenical document since the Nicene Creed: over 300 denominations participated in its drafting, from Catholic to Orthodox to Anglican to Protestant to Evangelical, and BEM attempted to summarize the essential agreement all Christians could have on these core issues of Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry. There was a time when every seminarian, of almost every denomination, would read BEM. I now doubt whether the vast majority of seminarians have even heard of it.


OK, so why rehearse all of this? In part because we can't know how to move forward unless we realize how we got to where we are today. I believe there are several important elements of the history of the ecumenical movement which we will need to keep in mind, which need to be part of this ecumenical autumn.

  1. Ecumenism has gone through different incarnations: the way it looked in 1790 was not the same as 1860 was not the same as 1900 was not the same as 1960. We are at the end of a cycle which began in the post-World War II period. So of course ecumenism is changing. It's always changed. We are entering a new incarnation; there are some ways in which the old models won't work because the world has changed.

  1. Ecumenism has been responsive to broader changes in society. The United States Sanitary Commission and the Red Cross were formed because a need emerged which simply had not been present beforehand. Likewise, when national and international organizations were formed after World War II, the churches formed similar organizations. Changes in ecumenism have been responsive with changes in the churches and changes in broader society.

Society is changing again. Our churches are also changing, moving from the last vestiges of notions Christendom. We are in an age of globalization. All things you've heard, maybe are tired of hearing. But it's the reality, and the history: the ecumenical movement will change as the churches themselves change and institutions in broader society change. The UN is viewed very differently in 2011 than it did in 1961. It should be no surprise that organizations like WCC has undergone a similar process, and the NCC. President Eisenhower was present when the cornerstone of the NCC headquarters on Riverside Drive was laid. When then-candidate John F. Kennedy gave his famous speech, defending himself against charges that as a Catholic he couldn't be president, he not only said that he would not take orders from the Vatican, but, if you look at the entire quote, he also says neither would he take orders from the NCC. It's shocking when I hear that quote to think that anyone would think of the NCC as being so powerful and relevant as to even imagine it might have the ear of the President.

  1. The Ecumenical Movement must be in the service of mission. In all of these previous incarnations, ecumenism has been firmly linked with the mission of the churches. The birth of the modern ecumenical movement in 1910 was occasioned by the international missionary work churches were doing.

Ecumenism will need to re-engage that: ecumenism will need to continue to arise from the mission of the church. How churches are going about the mission of the church is changing; therefore ecumenism will change.

  1. Ecumenical Movement is a victim of its success. We've come a long way from the days when churches interacted very little to one another: we were raised in a particular faith tradition, clergy went to denominational seminaries, we participated in our denominational organizations. That has changed. We have made important strides in acknowledging what we share in common, even though there still are major differences between our communions. I was talking with one stalwart of the ecumenical movement a few years ago and asked him what the biggest change was that he had seen – this was someone who got involved in the ecumenical movement in the 1950s, had been to Vatican II as an observer, served on denominational staff and on staff of the WCC; someone who had had a first-hand seat for many of the accomplishment I rehearsed. His reply? “When I started out in the ministry, we referred to dialogues between Christians as interfaith dialogues. Now we use that term to describe dialogues between Christians and non-Christians.”

We have come a long way. We are in a time of change and transition in the ecumenical movement. It is also important to point out that we are in a time of change and transition within our churches as well. That what will make this in some ways so difficult. Having seen where we have come from, an important next step will be looking at the issues that continue to divide us, which I will do in our next session.