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.”