by Pastor Kyle Gould*
Ecumenism is not a word with which most people in our churches are familiar — ecumenism is the working together of the various Christian traditions in an effort to be a more unified universal Church. The United Methodist Church and The East Ohio Conference pursues this work through the Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships (OCUIR). As a member of the East Ohio OCUIR, I attended the National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU) in Silver Spring, Maryland from April 16-19 along with Will Jones, Director of Multicultural Vitality.
The week was full of workshops, speakers, and learning opportunities and I came home exhausted, but refreshed. The conference began with denominational meetings and United Methodists from all over the country gathered for UMEIT – United Methodist Ecumenical and Interreligious Training. The Council of Bishops’ Rev. Dr. Jean Hawxhurst and Dr. Kyle Tau led discussion that were informative and inspiring. Some of you may or may not be surprised to know that we have Full-Communion agreements with the ELCA and with the Moravian Church — this means that an ELCA or Moravian pastor could lead a United Methodist Church and vice versa. The United Methodist church is even currently in dialogue with the Episcopal Church for a Full-Communion agreement as well. We also learned about the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, a document between the Catholic and Lutheran traditions that the World Methodist Council has also adopted, that states that our traditions now share "a common understanding of our justification by God's grace through faith in Christ.”
The focus of this year’s workshop centered on the work of the National Council of Churches and the recent Rally to End Racism, held in Washington D.C. on the anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. Throughout the week we were inspired by Lisa Sharon Harper, the guest theologian, who challenged our theological understanding of dominion. God’s dominion is reflected in each of us as bearers of God’s image regardless of age, race, nationality, socio-economic status, or creed. We learned that Godly dominion as a means to steward and protect and that God’s universal Church has a responsibility to steward and protect the oppressed.
Why does ecumenism matter? Many of our churches are really grappling with changing realities in the communities that exist outside of our doors and we should, perhaps, be focusing on our own local congregations and making them healthy and robust once more. I understand this question, but what I gained from my week at NWCU is this: the answer likely lies in our cooperative efforts with our brothers and sisters from other Christian traditions.
At the denominational level, we are already in cooperation with other denominations. At the local level, many churches and parishioners are already engaged in ecumenical work — perhaps without knowing what to call it. If you are partnering with a Lutheran church for a food pantry to serve the needs of the community — you are doing ecumenical work. If you are partnering with the Nazarene Church to host an Upward Sports league — you are doing ecumenical work.
At a time when there are deep rifts within our society, particularly political, seeing churches united in mission in the local community is a witness of the grace and love of God. Being on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. for NWCU on the heels of the Rally to End Racism may have been providential for this meeting. There is an intersection of restorative justice and the ecumenical movement today. While remaining rooted in our own theological traditions, we were able to unite with other denominations as people marched in effort to end racism. Working together as a united front clearly allowed us to do more than we could do on our own. This is true as we work for the Kingdom of God in our own local communities as well. It does not mean sacrificing what makes us distinctly Wesleyan or having other traditions sacrifice their theological understandings of various issues, but coming together for a common mission, pooling our resources, and making a difference in Christ’s name.
*Kyle Gould is pastor at Oak Chapel United Methodist, Canal District
Rev. Karen Graham
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