Archive for June, 2008

Hospitality and Ecumenism

June 29, 2008

Until recently,  I have been based in our national offices in New York, but thanks to the hospitality of the Diocese of Nebraska and Trinity Cathedral in particular, I am now back living in Iowa (just in time for the floods!) and relating to one of our new regional offices which will be housed right here at Trinity Cathedral!   


The other regional offices are slated for Los Angeles, Seattle, Atlanta and Washington DC. The Presiding Bishop of our church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, has cast a vision for our national offices to be more collaborative in working together, and more connected to the needs of our people in the pews, our bishops, priests and deacons in dioceses and congregations across the country and beyond.  Our hope is to learn from the many fine ministries going on here in Nebraska and throughout Province 6. And also to help interpret The Episcopal Church’s ecumenical and interfaith work on the local level.


Today’s Gospel is all about hospitality as our Lord tells his disciples that “whoever welcomes you welcomes me…and whoever welcomes me… welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40) If the welcome and hospitality we have already received from Bishop Burnett, Deans Hurley and Medina, and Canon Tim Anderson are any indication, you are fulfilling that Gospel mandate to the fullest! We feel welcomed indeed.


In many ways, the ministry in which I am engaged is all about hospitality. When the Presiding Bishop, then Frank Griswold, asked me to leave my diocese and come to work for him in ecumenical relations, my counterpart in the Church of England, Dr. Mary Tanner, said, “Congratulations, Chris. You and I have the best jobs in the Church. They pay us to make friends!”


And there’s some truth in that. The ecumenical movement is all about building friendships and relationships between separated Christian communities and working for the unity of the one Church.


Jesus prayed on the night before he died that his followers might be one as he and the Father were one so “that the world might believe!” For me, ecumenism is all about that mission. Trying to be united as Christians “so that the world might believe!


In an age when the Gospel message is often muted because of our divisions, within churches and between churches, I believe it is important to build bridges and mend the tears in our fabric so that our witness is clearer, more united, and therefore more compelling. I often get frustrated with the slow pace of Church unity. But then I have to think back over my lifetime, even to World War II, to see how far we’ve come.


Sixty years ago, Roman Catholics and Protestants barely entered one another’s churches, and there was much misunderstanding and even animosity between us. Even Protestant churches were content to live largely within themselves, and often characterized other churches as heretical or at least misguided.


But after WWII, in the great move toward international cooperation that led to the founding of the United Nations and the World Health Organization and the World Bank, The Episcopal Church became a founding member, along with others, of the World Council of Churches based in Geneva Switzerland, and the National Council of Churches based in New York City.


Those organizations – through something called the Faith and Order Movement – fostered, first, cooperation and then dialogue between the churches which have today led to many full communion relationships such as we have with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Old Catholic Churches in Europe, the Churches of North and South India and a number of others.


With the advent of Vatican II in the 1960s the Roman Catholic Church ended its long opposition to the ecumenical movement, entered into the dialogue with gusto, and has changed the face of the search for Christian unity. Our Anglican – Roman Catholic dialogues, both on the international and national levels, are some of our oldest and  have led to amazing convergences in our understanding of baptism, the Eucharist, ordained ministry, and many – if not all – social issues as well. 


“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” Jesus said, and that welcome even extends beyond the churches to other great world religions. The purpose of interfaith, or inter-religious, dialogue is, of course, different from ecumenical dialogue. We are not seeking to create one world religion or to blur the distinctions between, say Judaism, Christianity and Islam. What we are seeking is deeper understanding, moving even beyond tolerance to appreciation of each other, and cooperation, when we can, for the sake of the common good.


The amazing interfaith project your diocese is engaged in, seeking a common campus to be shared with a Jewish synagogue, an Episcopal Church, and an Islamic Center is a model for the country! And I hope to be involved in whatever way is helpful and certainly to share your story with the wider Church as well. I think interfaith dialogue is best done ecumenically – with other Christians — and I have discovered that our Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers respect us more when we are as deeply committed to our Christian faith as they are to their faiths…and yet find a way to seek common purpose under the One, True God.


“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” Jesus said but he did not stop there. He went on to add, “…and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” I have found that welcome in dialogue and mutual ministry with fellow Christians, and even at interfaith tables with other believers in the One God who are people of good will. I hope to share some of that journey with you as time goes on.


I hope this will not be the last time I have the privilege of being invited into this pulpit and I pledge to you the support, the encouragement, and the cooperation of The Presiding Bishop, her whole staff, and of your brother and sister Episcopalians here in the United States and abroad. Let me close by offering once again our Collect for this Sunday. It is my constant prayer for my work…the work I hope increasingly to share with you. Let us pray…


“Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone:  Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”  








May We Remember…In Better Times

June 18, 2008

It’s become trite to say how differences seem to melt away and people come together when confronted by natural disasters in this country and around the world. But sometimes things become trite because they are so true.

The thousand gallons of sewage-tinged water we pumped out of our basement last Thursday night was nothing compared to the suffering of so many in Iowa — Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and now Burlington. Keokuk is still in the bulls-eye.

People do stand together, volunteers turn out to sandbag, professionals who service drains sometimes don’t charge for late night emergencies. E-mails and phone calls come in from around the country from friends and family. Comparisons to Katrina are made (over the top, I have to say).

No one would wish this kind of thing on a community. But when such things occur they do remind us of the power of nature, of the fragility of human life, of the futility of self-sufficiency, and the essential nature of community.  Our prayer “that we all may be one” takes on new meaning.

May we remember this in better times…

Unity and Politics

June 8, 2008

“That we all may be one” is a phrase politicians are thinking about these days as well as ecumenists. At least one of the considerations (and not an unimportant one) Senators McCain and Obama have in their choice of running mates is who will best help them unify their parties.

Whether that is a gender balance with Obama choosing Clinton and/or McCain choosing Kay Bailey Hutchinson; or an experience balance with Obama choosing Joe Biden or Sam Nunn for foreign policy experience and McCain considering Mitt Romney or Mike Huckaby for gubernatorial domestic and economic perspective — at least as important for them is finding someone who can unite the disparate factions of their own political parties.

That’s certainly important, I suppose, in the short run. But I hope and pray that the theme of unity will also extend into the Presidential campaign itself and the tone taken in debates and TV commercials. Both presumptive candidates at least have the possibility of reminding us all that we are Americans first and Democrats or Republicans or Independents second.

No one party has a monopoly on approaches or solutions to the manifold problems we face and surely no one party has, or will likely have, the votes in Congress to turn those approaches into meaningful legislation unless truly bipartisan consensus can be reached. On the surface, this country looks hopelessly divided in so many ways. Yet, surely, the vast majority of us want to return to a more peaceful world, to close the widening gap between rich and poor, to regain honor and respect for the United States around the globe.

As we work for unity among Christians within and between the churches, let us not fail to pray and work for unity in our own communities, across this country, and for the whole human family. For we, of all people should know it is God’s desire “that we all may be one.”   

Work Yet To Do With The Methodists

June 1, 2008

One of the freedoms I have as ecumenical officer and no longer a diocesan bishop is that I can, from time to time, worship on Sundays with full communion partners and other communions with which we are in bilateral conversation. It has been a joy to worship occasionally at St. Paul Lutheran here in Davenport, Iowa. The pastor is Peter Marty (Martin’s son) and it is a growing, alive congregation which seems to find a place for all and reaches out into the community and beyond in mission.

This morning I attended a local United Methodist congregation and, I must say, the experience was not as good. While one must be careful in generalizing and it is certainly true that we do not make ecumenical decisions anecdotally, but upon the official positions of Christian communions, the eucharistic practice in this particular parish left much to be desired.

Initially I was pleased that the Lord’s Supper was being observed as the principle act of worship on this Lord’s Day knowing that this is not invariably the practice among Methodists. I was expecting the “open communion” invitation to communion “All who have faith in Christ or desire faith in Christ are invited to communion at the Lord’s Table.”

This is fairly standard Wesleyan practice and not unknown in Episcopal churches (much to this ecumenical officer’s discomfort!). I was also prepared for the tiny cubes of what appeared to be Wonder Bread and the small thimbles of Welch’s grape juice. 

These are ongoing issues for our bilateral dialogue and, under the terms of our interim Eucharistic sharing, are not normally a problem. We require that wine be available at these celebrations even while recognizing that the Methodists equally require grape juice. Solution, a chalice of each.          

What I was NOT prepared for was the truncated Eucharistic prayer. I am uncomfortable when Lutherans sometimes use basically only the Words of Institution as a sufficient consecractory prayer. In this case it was just the opposite! There was a said Sursum Corda, a sung Sanctus, a freeform prayer giving thanks for our creation and and redemption in Christ (all fine) and then NO Words of Institution! Not even a recalling of the Lord’s Supper which the rubrics in the bulletin did indeed require. Then there was a sung Acclamation (“Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again”), more prayer and a sung Great Amen! 

During our interim Eucharistic sharing time, our requirement is that an ordained bishop or presbyter from each communion stand at the Table together and than an authorized rite from one of the two churches be used. In such celebrations in which I have participated I have been impressed with the way it has been done, honoring both traditions, but also living up to the expectations of good eucharistic practice.

We have some work to do before finding our way forward into a full communion relationship with the United Methodists. There will have to be a good bit of teaching and learning on both sides and some clear expectations as to how the Eucharist is to be celebrated on Sunday mornings. A certain diversity of practice is to be expected (and indeed, if we are honest, there is a good bit of diversity on Sunday mornings across The Episcopal Church!).

But both the liturgical and ecumenical movements have gone a long way over the last decades in providing clear guidance about what good eucharistic practice appears to be. All of us need to honor those principles if we are indeed to achieve “full” communion.