Archive for May, 2009

Padre Alberto

May 31, 2009

Ah, the poor, naive Episcopal Church. We can’t even seem to get it right these days when we try to do the “right thing.” The media has rightly noted that there has always been a certain amount of movement back and forth between The Roman Catholic Church and churches of the Anglican Communion since the Reformation. What separates the case of Father Alberto, a media figure for the Roman Church was the way it was handled.

We have no problem with unchurched Roman Catholics (or other Christians) exploring The Episcopal Church and perhaps eventually choosing to join us. But precisely because of the similarities, as well as diff erences, between the two communions the process needs to be a slow and careful one lest the unsuspecting person wake up one day in a church he/she did not fully understand. The roots of Roman Catholicism go very deep and this is a spiritual question, not one of mere “church shopping” a la the American culture.

With Father Alberto’s notoriety it was perhaps impossible to keep this quiet (although I’m not convinced of that — confirmations/receptions can take place in the bishop’s chapel and, while not ideal from the point of Christian community, might have been advisable in this case). Certainly, the Roman Catholic bishop should have been advised by the priest and our own bishop and diocese well in advance. This is not only ecumenical protocol, but implied by our canons.

Certainly there is no necessity for this new Episcopal lay person to be given the privileges of an Episcopal pulpit on the Feast of Pentecost, undoubtedly provoking even more scrutiny and rubbing salt into the ecumenical wounds not only in Southeast Florida across the nation and world.

I am committed to Latino initiatives of The Episcopal Church, given the fact that it is the fastest growing demographic in the United States. And I do not believe that the Roman Catholic Church has some kind of “divine right” of access to the Latino community. But we must not run the risk of being accused of  “poaching” Roman Catholic lay persons or clerics. That is why I do not believe this situation has helped our Hispanic ministry, but perhaps even unintentionally damaged it.

No doubt the ecumenical firestorm will pass like so many others. I just hope that we will have learned something, and that the burns left behind will not leave painful scars only partially healed.

On Those Prayers You May Depend!

May 29, 2009

Thursday of 7 Easter. Acts 22:30; 23:6-11; Psalm 16:5-11; John 17:20-26.

It’s great to be back with you today! One of the things I miss most by being in one of our regional offices is participating in our chapel life here at the Church Center. So I’m grateful to Fred Vergara for allowing me to “substitute” for him today…really at the last minute when I asked him.

 Having just returned from Cincinnati and our Anglican – Roman Catholic dialogue there, I was tempted to preach on the last line from today’s reading from Acts when the Lord said to Paul: “Take courage, for as you have testified about me at Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also at Rome!” (But then I decided maybe I’d better not “go there!”)

 Instead I’ll share with you a thought I gleaned from the Roman Catholic bishop who co-chairs that dialogue with our own Bishop Tom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio. His name is Ron Herzog and he is a relatively new bishop in the Roman Catholic diocese of Alexandria, Louisiana. He preached on the very same Gospel reading we had today earlier this week – lines from the great High Priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17.

 The passage begins with Jesus saying “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they all may be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe…” That is, of course, the great ecumenical text, read at almost every ecumenical service I go to – that we all might be one so that the world might believe!

 But Bishop Herzog picked up on another insight as well. He reminded us that, when Jesus says that he is not only praying for the apostles, but also for those who will come to believe because of the apostles’ testimony, that means that Jesus is praying for US!   

For US…now…today…and tomorrow! For us who have “come to believe” because of those original apostle’s testimony.

 I’m not sure how often we stop to remember that. We know that Jesus came to save us. We know that he lived and died as one of us. We know that he was raised from the dead to give us the gift of eternal life. But do we also know that he is alive today, making intercession for us!

 When he challenged St. Paul to “Take courage,” because he not only had testified to Jesus in Jerusalem, but was now to take that same message to the heart of the Empire in Rome, it must have given that great Apostle some pause. But he knew then what we must learn today – that he was not alone in his mission and ministry. He was being supported, led, guided and prayed for by none other than the same Lord to whom he was bearing witness!

 And so are you, dear friends! So, if you are feeling overwhelmed or overtaxed in your work, in your life and ministry today, just take a minute to remember who’s praying for you – not only your family, not only your friends, not only your colleagues in ministry…but the Lord Jesus Himself! And on those prayers, you can most surely depend!

Which Path Will We Choose?

May 19, 2009

Here at the Church of the Brethren headquarters in Elgin, Illinois near Chicago, we have been challenged by our General Secretary, Dr. Michael Kinnamon, to consider ecumenism in “lean times.” The question before  us is ‘how will the churches respond when facing the economic challenges in which we are now engaged?’

“Lean times,” he pointed out in his opening address, “may be an opportunity to go beyond cooperation to a genuine sharing of resources, a sharing of life through an intentional deepening of relationships.  It could be an opportunity to take seriously the famously-ignored Lund Principle: ‘doing all things together except those which deep differences of conviction compel us to do separately.’

Or…lean times can reinforce the pull toward ecclesiastical introversion, which is always the greatest obstacle to manifesting unity.  If this is the course we take, then prepare for more tensions in our relationships as a result of internal pressure and competition borne of scarcity.”

Which path will we choose…ecumenically, or in the Anglican Communion?

Desert Pilgrimage

May 2, 2009


Over 270 ecumenists gathered around that theme in Phoenix, Arizona, April 27-30 for the 2009 National Workshop on Christian Unity. Often described as a “network of networks,” the NWCU combines business meetings of the various communions’ local ecumenical officers with keynote speakers, seminars, and lively worship.


Former Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church USA and current President of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, preached at the Opening Worship in St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Basilica. He emphasized that, while many experience the ecumenical movement as in a “desert time” in these days, renewal and new life has come precisely in the desert for God’s people. The opening worship was an interesting blend of traditions including choirs from both the Orthodox and African Methodist Episcopal churches, a Mariachi band and hymns sung in Spanish, and energetic praise from a Sudanese Episcopal Church choir.


The keynote address was delivered by Metropolitan Gerasimos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of San Francisco. His Eminence stressed both the challenges and the hopes of Orthodox involvement in the ecumenical movement. Acknowledging that there are “anti ecumenical” voices in all our communions, he counseled the patient listening of the Desert Fathers as a model to follow. Recognizing the great strides made recently between Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches around issues of Christology, he suggested prioritizing those communions with whom we share the greatest similarity and history as places to start in ecumenical engagement.   


Morning Bible studies were conducted by Dr. Margaret Mitchell, a Roman Catholic professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Her rich presentations on the various images of unity used by St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians showed how he drew upon ancient Greek and Roman models familiar to his original readers.


Seminars included “Ecumenical Implications of Post-Modern Thought” presented by the Very Rev. Nick Knisely, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Phoenix; “Common Words Among Christian and Muslims” presented by Dr. Lucinda Mosher of Religions for Peace – USA; a panel from the historic Black Methodist churches discussing “Racism as an Impediment to Ecumenism;” and a discussion based on the World Council of Churches’ document “Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry” by Dr. Louis Weil of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific; among many others.


The lively closing luncheon speech was given by Dr. Cecil “Mel” Robeck, Jr., professor of Church History and Ecumenics and Director of the David J. DuPlessis Center for Christian Spirituality at the Fuller Theological Seminary. As a Pentecostal ecumenist, Dr. Robeck was able to trace the increasing involvement of Pentecostals in the movement toward church unity in recent decades ranging from their contributions to Faith and Order discussions to the worldwide Global Forum.   


Various ecumenical officer networks from the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal and other churches held business meetings in conjunction with the NWCU. The National Ecumenical Officers Association welcomes a new such network, the United Methodist Ecumenical and Interreligious Trainers (UMEIT). Next years National Workshop on Christian Unity will be held in Tampa, Florida April 19-22, 2010.