Some 300 persons gathered July 19-23, 2007 on the campus of Oberlin College to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the first Conference on Faith and Order which took place on that same campus in 1957. The movement known as “Faith and Order” actually traces its history in this country to 1910 when Episcopal Bishop Charles Henry Brent and Disciples leader Peter Ainsley, among others, began to articulate the need for a setting where churches could together engage their differences in understanding the Christian faith and God’s intention for the right-ordering of the Church.
Banquet speaker, Dr. Martin Marty, Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago, began by summarizing the many ecumenical accomplishments of the Faith and Order movement over these last fifty years. He cited such advances as actual mergers of churches into “united churches;” the development of the various state, national and world councils of churches; a number of full communion agreements; and theological breakthroughs such as the signing of the joint declaration on “justification” by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation.
At the same time, Marty counseled against minimizing the difficulties the movement still faces. These difficulties are not so much in the area of “faith,” he observed, which operates in the area of mystery, depth and amplitude but is hard to define. Rather, the “sticking points” have to do with sexual issues and authority issues. These still remain communion-dividing issues within and among the churches and keep us from sharing the common Eucharist. Nonetheless, he concluded, we are not to “whine or weep, for none of that changes hearts.” Rather we should engage in the real repentance and action that does change things.
After an overview by Dr. Barbara Brown Zikmund and Dr. Donald Dayton on the legacy and ecumenical significance of Oberlin College and the reasons it was chosen as the site of the first North American Conference on Faith and Order, a number of visions of Christian unity were presented. Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ provided the Roman Catholic perspective and urged “an ecumenism of mutual enrichment by means of mutual testimony.”
Dr. David Daniels of the Church of God in Christ called for an ecumenism which would link “reach out beyond American denominationalism, link apostolic faith with apostolic power, and combat racism at every level.” Quaker Ann Riggs, PhD, Associate General Secretary for Faith and Order at the National Council of Churches, called for the ecumenical movement to move beyond “conflict resolution to conflict transformation.” And United Methodist Dr. Doug Mills drew a thread through all three presentations by highlighting Methodist contributions in these areas.
One of the exciting components of this “Oberlin II” conference was the participation of nearly 100 younger ecumenists, theologians, seminarians and undergraduates. In an ecumenical movement which often appears to be aging if not aged fresh voices and perspectives were more than welcomed. Veteran ecumenist Paul Crow was visibly pleased to moderate an evening session with a young local ecumenist from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Raphael Allen, a lay ecclesial minister from a Roman Catholic Church in Seattle, A.J. Boyd, and Dr. Keelan Downton, a post-doctoral fellow at the National Council of Churches and representative of the “emerging church” conversation.