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Ecumenical & Interreligious Relations

Ecumenical News, January 29, 2015


Ecumenical News

Sharing in One Baptism

By The Rev. Robina M. Winbush

There is so much that divides humanity and the Christian family.  Divisions of race, class, language, nationality, social-location, geo-political realities become codified in theological claims that shape and define denominations and congregations within denominations. As Presbyterians we claim, “The body of Christ is one, and Baptism is the bond of unity in Christ. As they are united with Christ through faith, Baptism unites the people of God with each other and with the church of every time and place. Barriers of race, gender, status, and age are to be transcended. Barriers of nationality, history, and practice are to be overcome.”  (W- 2.3005 )

In January 2013, leaders of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Reform Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) officially signed an agreement that had been approved by their respective denominations to recognize each other’s baptisms.  However, this Agreement’s gift still needs to be received in local congregations and communities.  Do we remind our members and congregations that we baptize into the “Body of Christ” and invite our ecumenical partners to share and witness in the services of worship that include both baptisms and renewal of baptismal celebrations?  Are we able to celebrate with other Christian communities in their services of baptism and welcome their members as our own sisters and brothers? Read more about the Catholic Reformed Dialogue at our website, see specifically the Short Report under the heading “These Living Waters.”

Beyond the sacramental celebrations, do we begin to understand that our baptism not only places us in relationship with other Christians, but also calls us to share in the work of Jesus Christ that breaks down dividing walls and creates community of just relationships?  Our baptism calls us to see in one another the image of God and to honor that reality. The struggles that have come to a head in Ferguson, Mo, Cleveland, Ohio, Statin Island, NY and other places where people have lost their lives because their humanity was denied.  When we fail to see another’s humanity and image of God that is within them, then we betray our baptismal vows.

Too often we begin our ecumenical engagements with our differences and that which divides.  What would it mean if we began with a reminder of the gift of grace given in the baptism we share in Jesus Christ.  It is that gift that shapes us into “new creations” and calls us to a new community beyond our understanding or expectation.


Why Presbyterians should be involved in the ecumenical movement

The ecumenical movement is a pilgrimage. As Presbyterians, we are called not to remain stagnant or sit idly by. Our theology will not allow us. I prefer ecumenical movement to ecumenism, because we are always on the move, the move towards communion and justice. It is a pilgrimage towards communion and justice for all.

To be Presbyterian is to be ecumenical. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is rooted in tradition. It is a tradition that has always been open to dialogue and change, going beyond our church walls. The PC(USA) is part of the Reformed family. The Reformed churches believe in the interconnectedness of the Church. We are not alone. We are not alone in our mission, in our preaching, in our teaching, in our living out in the world. This means that not only is God with us always, but that we are called to be interconnected. The Church is one through the Unity of God. This is a great doctrinal statement, but it is also meant to be lived out in the world. This is why I love the Reformed tradition, because we pride ourselves on our confessional history, but we also acknowledge that we are to move forward—together—as a Church Body, writing new confessions and listening for the Spirit. This means we actively work every day to the best of our abilities (even when we fall short) to the glory of God. Even in our depraved state, God’s grace calls us to respond by striving for unity, kin-dom come.joanna hipp

At the heart of the ecumenical movement is that we are called to be One. Through the explanation and areas of emphasis defined above, all the work of the ecumenical movement is done so that all may prosper. There is an attention to the convergence between theological, contextual, and institutional challenges. Recalling our spiritual roots of the ecumenical movement, we acknowledge that we are one in Christ. What does this call us to do? The answer is found in Christ’s own prayer in John 17:21, NRSV: “that they may all be one. As you, [God], are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

An important aspect for the ecumenical movement in the 21st century is the change in globalization. Justice issues such as oppression, poverty, lack of land reform, unjust and imbalanced trade relationships, wars and conflicts, health concerns, financial crises, etc., are all tied into the care for God’s creation, both in terms of the human and natural world. When we do things together, not as a power-force coming to change you, but in dialogue and conversation, then we can tackle the issues that plague our world. It is the concentration of power always held by the small minority that impedes the progress of justice and peace in our world. Only when we begin to dialogue and actually work together (dialogue is important, but alongside dialogue action must take place) in partnerships are we best able to overcome issues such as the ones listed above. When we work together then the few can no longer have the power, and the Church can become the aid we are called to be throughout the whole world.

This vision is at the heart of the Accra Confession, which is one of the greatest gifts that the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (now World Communion of Reformed Churches) has given to the ecumenical movement. Its 10th anniversary is being celebrated this year. The Accra Confession names the economic disparities that exist in our world, and is a statement of faith in the midst of economic empire. The Accra Confession says, “We live in a scandalous world that denies God’s call to life for all. The annual income of the richest 1 per cent is equal to that of the poorest 57 per cent, and 24,000 people die each day from poverty and malnutrition.”[1] This is just one of the examples where empire has exploited the lives of others, and ten years later, we have gathered again to discuss the global realities.

As Christians, we are called to live out koinonia, communion. We live into our full communion with churches, honoring diversity, instead of insisting on like-mindedness while discouraging diversity. We should remember that we live together in one community of faith, honoring our diversity and not ignoring or discouraging it. The ultimate goal through this movement of justice and peace is unity in our diversity. We are called to learn from one another, and work towards a tangible reality through action. At the Eucharist Table, all (baptized believers) are invited. But is this a true reality? While we stand behind the Table on Sunday morning, professing that all may partake, we must remember who is not there, and not able to partake. At the Great Banquet Feast no one is left to the margins. The heart of the church not only rests within the structures that govern us, but outside, in the world, where we are called to go and walk on this pilgrimage of life together, where we witness to Christ in all aspects of our lives, and calling all together, for all are invited to the Great Banquet Feast.

Presbyterians should be involved in the ecumenical movement, because whether you like it or not, you already are part of it. The ecumenical movement strives for unity, not sameness, and in that unity, justice for all is the targeted goal. Connecting with people is crucial for the Church to thrive; and this means joining hands with people across boundaries and comfort zones. It means that we go beyond our church walls.

To be Presbyterian, again, is to be ecumenical. May we continue pushing down boundaries and barriers that separate us from one another, and strive for justice for all. I cannot be comfortable in my Christian faith until this happens. While this may not always be a comfortable proposition, to be Presbyterian, to be Christian, is to be uncomfortable, to get into the messiness of life. Now is the time to get messy, now is the time to be uncomfortable. Now is the time to strive toward unity even when, especially when, it is difficult. May we continue on this messy pilgrimage together.

[1] Accra Confession. Point 7.


Unity is A world wide journey, pack your bags wisely

The bartender was reading the newspaper and took no notice of me as I peered into the door. I crossed the street to take a look inside because there was a “1667” sign in the window. I was thirsty for this French beer because it is not easy to come by in my neighborhood. I placed my order and the bartender and I made small talk about my recent arrival in Geneva and her travels to the United States.the story of Geneva as depicted in the Old City

The bartender was friendly. She made an offhand remark that was surprising to me. She stated that Geneva was “just like a third-world country.” It was surprising because twenty minutes ago I saw a Hermes storefront and many signs for Rolex and Harry Winston. There are “too many immigrants” she spat out. A few moments later I learned that she came to Geneva as a refugee from the former Czechoslovakia.

The Bible study God’s Unity…Our Journey unpacks the Ecumenical Stance of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to help local congregations discern how God is calling them to work for the unity of the church. The third session focuses on the changing patterns of mission and traditions in the church. It explores what it means to say we are members of the body of Christ while acknowledging our difference, particularly in a time where we notice more the migration of people. I was in Geneva to further my own ecumenical formation so that I might be better prepared to help the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) implement our Ecumenical Stance.

Geneva is a home of sorts for many Christians. A few years ago when the Office of Ecumenical Relations hosted an Ecumenical Pilgrimage to explore important sites in the history of our faith, Geneva was one of the stops. John Calvin sought refuge in Geneva during the Reformation period, where he assisted other reformers in teaching and caring for the fledgling church. The Psalms were first sung during Sunday service at the Geneva Church and the Geneva Bible, an important English translation of the Bible, was printed there. Today the World Council of Churches has its home in Geneva and Christians come from all over the world to learn about ecumenism at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey.

The woman at the bar in Geneva had the same sentiment about migration as some in the United States; all want the gate closed after their safe arrival. The memory of the journey and carrying the hope for a new future has been lost. The country’s history has been forgotten. Instead there is the tendency to see people at the city’s gates as enemies, rather than parts of the body of Christ with gifts to share. Of course all migrants are not people of faith, or even Christian, but Jesus is Risen for the benefit of the whole world and God’s church exists for God’s mission in the world, not just for Christians. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has even incorporated this belief in its Constitution, or Book of Order.

The Great Commandment to go and make disciples of all nations was not just a commandment to Western/European churches, but the whole church, of all times and places. Migrants carry this Great Commandment to minister to their new nation and be a prophetic voice for the need to work together to solve our world’s problems. When migrants settle into a new home, the church experiences new ways of worship and witnessing to God’s presence in the world. We also receive a clearer picture of the image of God we all bear.

Most likely all nations exist in your backyard; go and make disciples and reform your own discipleship while you are at it. In our differences and search for the good life for our families and communities, we find our unity.

You can download a copy of God’s Unity … Our Journey on the Office of Ecumenical Relations website.


General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations

UPDATE, December 2014
The Reverend Aimee Moiso

What calls you to this work?

The newly elected General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations (GACEIR) opened its first meeting with this question. As stories unfolded around the table, it seemed the prompt could just as easily have been, “How have you been changed by encounters with other people of faith?” To a person, committee members shared moments of being opened and enlivened by people who saw the world in a different way, and experiences of being disappointed, hurt, and angry when such meetings were stifled, discouraged, or prohibited.

What calls GACEIR to this work? Quite simply, it is the conviction that we are not and cannot be alone in this journey. As Christians, we need each other to be and see the fullness of the body of Christ, and we need enriching partnerships and friendships with people of goodwill across many traditions.

This reemerging conviction took us back to basics: that the heart of ecumenical and interreligious engagement is relationships. To keep relationships central to our work, the committee chose formation and engagement—the what, why, and how of ecumenical and interreligious relationships—as its focus for the next two years. In so doing, we also stepped out of our normal operating procedures in order to rethink and reimagine why this work is so important to us. How are we formed for and through partnerships with people of different convictions? How can we engage more deeply in these relationships—which are so crucial to our faith—throughout the church?

In our next three meetings, we will focus on ecumenical and interreligious formation and engagement in connection to (1) theological institutions, (2) PC(USA) councils (formerly middle and other governing bodies), and (3) congregations. In other words, we will be looking at how ecumenical and interreligious relationships are and can be more fully at play in theological education, our councils, and our congregations of all shapes, sizes, and styles across the country. A major element of these conversations will be the Interreligious Stance as we look for ways to live more fully into its call and possibilities.

It is an exciting season for GACEIR as we look toward newly energized and energizing years ahead!


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