Christian unity workshop explores theme of belonging to Christ

April 7, 2005

"The broken arm (of the Church, the Body of Christ) is healing, even though it is not yet time to remove the cast," said Bishop Richard J. Sklba, auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee, as he addressed some 350 participants at the 2005 National Workshop on Christian Unity meeting in New Orleans, April 4-7. Sklba commended the gathering of local ecumenical officers, staff persons, and other interested clergy and laity as those who have, over the years, carried the ecumenical vision forward.

Dedicating his keynote address to the memory of the late Pope John Paul II, Sklba began by soberly reminding his audience of the context in which they were meeting -- that of a bitterly divided church, nation, and world. The churches are facing conflict not only between themselves, but within their own ranks. The nation is divided over the results of the last presidential election and also over the continuing war in Iraq. And the world is divided around the effects of globalization, between the so-called developed north and the global south.

In the face of such divisions, dialogue such as that developed and honed by "tired ecumenical warriors and eager newcomers to ecumenism" must become a permanent feature in every area of life. The bishop brought a word of encouragement in stating that, if the ecumenical movement seems to some to be slowing, "it may be because the train is approaching the station, and additional care must be taken to be sure we arrive at precisely the right place and at the right time."

Ecumenical dialogues must continue, but now is the time for reception and implementation. In other words, steps must be taken to help Christian people "receive" and understand the ecumenical agreements already reached. And what we can already do together, as fellow Christians, must find practical methods of implementation on the local parish level. Sklba suggested four "next steps:"

1. Understanding – studying the ecumenical documents most pertinent to your denomination with fellow Christians in your own locality.
2. Cooperation – be sure that the covenants and commitments already made together (such as promises to pray for each other) are being honored, even when there have been leadership changes since first those agreements were made.
3. Participation – pay attention to each other's local and national assemblies and even consider inviting official delegations from one another's churches to attend.
4. Openness -- be open to receiving one another's gifts, since each Christian communion brings different gifts to the ecumenical table.
5. Sharing the pain – be conscious of one another's struggles as churches and seek to stand in solidarity as we each find our way forward.

The National Workshop on Christian Unity, made up primarily of Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian participants, this year also included Baptists; Byzantine, Greek, and Ukrainian Catholics; Disciples and the United Church of Christ; Moravians, Greek and Russian Orthodox, the Society of Friends and a number of others.

Morning seminars included everything from "Ecumenism 101" (an introduction) to "Rapture, the Middle East, and the 'Left Behind' series," to "Progress and Potholes on the Road to Unity: Updates and Obstacles." Workshops such as "The Decree on Ecumenism: 40 Years Later," "Episcopal and United Methodist Dialogues," and updates on interfaith dialogue and the Parliament of the World Religions" were held in the afternoons.

Worship included an opening service at St. Louis King of France Roman Catholic Cathedral with the Rev. Delores Carpenter, professor at Howard University, as preacher; the Episcopal-Lutheran Eucharist at Christ Church Cathedral; and a Churches Uniting in Christ Liturgy at Immaculate Conception Church, a Jesuit parish not far from the French Quarter. Dr. Paul N. Anderson, professor of Biblical and Quaker Studies at George Fox University, led participants in morning Bible studies.

The Rt. Rev. Carol Gallagher, first Native American female bishop in the Episcopal Church, delivered the NWCU Closing Address. Next year's National Workshop on Christian Unity is slated for May 8-11, 2006 in San Jose, California. Information will be available through the Office of Ecumenical Relations at the Episcopal Church Center.