Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Graymoor Breakfast at National Workshop

The annual Graymoor Breakfast was a big success at the National Workshop on Christian Unity in Albuquerque, NM yesterday morning. It was a time for casual networking and conversation. Many friendships have been made over the 50 years of the National Workshop and the Graymoor Breakfast gives old friends a chance to catch up before the busy work of the Workshop starts. The Friars of the Atonement and Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute were loudly applauded in appreciation. About 150 participants enjoyed an enhanced continental breakfast. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

National Workshop on Christian Unity

Ecumenical officers, representatives and theologians will gather in a little more than six weeks time in Albuquerque, NM for the annual National Workshop on Christian Unity This year the event runs from Monday, April 28 to Thursday, May 1. The National Workshop has a long and venerable 41-year history as a time for networking, study and ecumenical conversation with the purpose of building up the unity of the Church. It is held in a different US city each year. It is organized by both a national board made up primarily of the ecumenical networks of major Christian denominations and by local host committees, often chosen from local councils of churches.
The theme for this year's National Workshop is "Has Christ Been Divided?" , from 1 Cor 1:13, and also the theme for the 2014 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Looking forward especially to hearing the keynote by Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, a scholar of Vatican II. The Friars of the Atonement are sponsoring him in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Decree on Ecumenism. 
Also getting ready to host the Graymoor Breakfast on April 29 at the National Workshop. It is highly regarded as a helpful time for networking and other conversations and is a great occasion for friends who haven't seen each other for a year to get together. It is right in line with the Friars' charism of hospitality and at-one-ment.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Week of Prayer Is Nine Weeks Away

With its theme, "Has Christ been divided?" (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:13), the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2014 is expected as always to be a highlight of ecumenical observances throughout the new year. It may be hard to believe, given we're all preparing for Thanksgiving in the United States, but the Week of Prayer is a mere nine weeks away!
The theme for 2014 comes from the churches and communions of Canada. As with many countries in the Western Hemisphere, Canada celebrates the great diversity of its population. Every culture, ethnicity, language group, church and religion has something to contribute to the whole common good. St. Paul emphasizes the call to unity in the gifts of diversity throughout his first Letter to the Corinthians. 
Diversity is a wonderful gift, but it can not lead to division for Christ himself is never divided. As many of us reflect on the optimism of the recent world Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, South Korea, we give thanks to God for the many gifts shared and pray for the unity of the One Church.
So, nine weeks to go. Oh yes, there is Thanksgiving, with hopefully many ecumenical and interfaith services. And then there's Advent and Christmas to think about first, but planning a good Week of Prayer service takes a little time and creativity.
In order to help with this, Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute offers materials for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in English and Spanish. Check out to see what your community may want to use. There are posters, prayer cards, bulletin covers, daily scripture/prayer guides and Ecumenical Services of the Word. All are intended to help us all commemorate the Week every year.
If nothing else, remember to pray "that they all may be one" this coming January 18-25, 2014. Prayer is the soul of the ecumenical movement. Done well, it moves those engaged into an ecumenism of the heart; the desire for unity grows with the experience of common prayer. Pray every day for the unity of the Church. May the Church always be blessed with diversity but may it also be blessed with reconciliation and peace.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Home Again

Just got home over the weekend from Busan, Republic of Korea and here at the office of Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute in New York with some time to reflect on the World Council of Churches' Tenth Assembly.
While in my last blog I shared some disappointment with regards to Faith and Order issues, I think it is important to hold up the Unity Statement approved by the Assembly. It states in paragraph 4:
We grieve that there are also painful experiences of situations where diversity has turned into division and we do not always recognize the face of Christ in each other. We cannot all gather together around the Table in Eucharistic communion. Divisive issues remain. New issues bring sharp challenges which create new divisions within and between churches. These must be addressed in the fellowship of churches by the way of consensus discernment. Too easily we withdraw into our own traditions and communities refusing to be challenged and enriched by the gifts others hold out to us. Sometimes we seem to embrace the creative new life of faith and yet do not embrace a passion for unity or a longing for fellowship with others. This makes us more ready to tolerate injustice and even conflicts between and within our churches. We are held back as some grow weary and disappointed on the ecumenical path.
And, in paragraph 15:
In faithfulness to this our common calling, we will seek together the full visible unity of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church when we express our unity around the one Table of the Lord... Above all, we pray without ceasing for the unity for which Jesus prayed (John 17): a unity of faith, love and compassion that Jesus Christ brought through his ministry; a unity Christ shares with the Father; a unity enfolded in the communion of the life and love of the Triune God.
While an exhortation, the Unity Statement does offer a theological vision for the World Council of Churches as to the kind of unity for which it strives. May the WCC be blessed in the Holy Spirit's power to carry through in this vision.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Time to Go Home: WCC Assembly Ends with Conviction and Some Mixed Feelings

Well, it's time to go home. The 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches came to a close today in Busan, Republic of Korea, with its prayer "God of life, lead us to justice and peace." The conviction of the participants and the churches seems genuine; let us pray for the action and vitality needed to bring the earth the justice and peace it needs.
At the closing prayer, the Rev. Michael Lapsley of South Africa, a member of the Society of the Sacred Mission (SSM), and a survivor of a bomb attempt on his life that rendered him handless and with only one eye, helped the Assembly recognize the value of listening and coming to a healing of memories, if the world is to experience justice and peace.
He said, "When the disciples were on the road to Emmaus and Jesus appeared, the first thing he did was to listen to their pain, grief, confusion and sadness before he began to help them make sense of their experience. Perhaps all of us, but especially those who are clergy, need to preach less and listen more. As the cliché goes, it is not accidental that God gave us two ears and one mouth. I have discovered as I am sure that many of you have, that pain is transcendent and that it can connect us to one another. Especially when we listen to one another."
That kind of listening requires great gifts of patience and respect as well as openness to ideas with which we may disagree. The unity that is ours in Christ should provide the bond that keeps us willing always to be reconciled to one another.
The Assembly was a great success in achieving the goals set out: to pursue justice and peace in unity. From the prayers in the morning and evening which focused on the themes of the days, yet encouraged by sign, symbol and presence the diversity of the Church; to the Bible Studies; to the Plenaries; to the Ecumenical Conversations and Madang Workshops, all went exceedingly well.
A major highlight of the Assembly was the Pilgrimage of Peace to the border with North Korea that attracted 800 participants.
Referring to justice and peace in Korea, the  Message of the Assembly said it well: "We share our experience of the search for unity in Korea as a sign of hope in the world. This is not the only land where people live divided, in poverty and richness, happiness and violence, welfare and war. We are not allowed to close our eyes to harsh realities or to rest our hands from God's transforming work. As a fellowship, the World Council of Churches stands in solidarity with the people and the churches in the Korean peninsula, and with all who strive for justice and peace."
The life and work agenda of the ecumenical movement was served exponentially well at this Assembly and the churches will hopefully be energized to work in common for justice and peace.
Notably, faith and order was left in the attic.
Yes, there were plenty of Ecumenical Conversations about the Faith and Order document, The Church:  Towards a Common Vision, the single most important work of Faith and Order since BEM, but nothing about it Assembly-wide, not even in any Plenary. This was disappointing.
Also disappointing was a lack of any treatment of the Ninth Report of the Joint Working Group between the WCC and the Catholic Church. This was a downgrading of Faith and Order at a time when the Church needs a strong theological foundation  in order to do the ministry of life and work as one.
That being said, it will be sad to leave Korea as many new friendships were formed, many good prayers were said and much grace filled the hearts of all believers attending.
Many thanks are owed to the Korean Host Committee for such hard work and good organization. Korea is a land where the Gospel is alive. May she be an inspiration to us all.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

WCC Statement on Middle East Calls For Peace but Sidelines Israel

The passage of a Statement Affirming the Christian Presence in the Middle East by the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches meeting in Busan, South Korea goes a long way in making a comprehensive plea for a peaceful life for Christians and all people in that very tense part of the world. 
It is commendable that the WCC stands with all Christians, especially in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Palestine/Israel.
The statement strikes out for justice when it "demands" the release of two archbishops from Aleppo, Syria, who were kidnapped in March 2013, and are still being held.
It's call for humanitarian access into Syria and for the rights of Christians in Egypt, Iraq and Iran are profound and hopefully will get the attention of governments.
When it comes to the Palestine/Israel conflict, however, the statement falls short in its dependence on what seems to be the Palestinian narrative alone. 
Paragraph 3.5 states,"This tension and violence around the Middle East and in North Africa is taking place in the midst of the on-going and longstanding Palestine/Israel conflict in the region, and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab territories since 1967. This remains a central issue and a major source of concern for all who are working for peace with justice for reconciliation. It also remains the core problem that is fueling the logic underlying many of the conflicts in the region, putting at risk international relations and peace."
No one should take the situation faced by Israelis and Palestinians lightly and this document does not do that. Solidarity with those who suffer injustice anywhere in the world is a mission of the One Church.  But fairness is also a part of justice. A line about the real fears of Israelis in the conflict may have been helpful and charitable to the other side of the story.
As far as this conflict being the "logic" for many conflicts in the region, one wonders if the growing power of Iran and Hezbollah might have a role in the tensions as well as radicalized Islamic groups.
The document's call to Christian churches throughout the world supporting Christians throughout the Middle East is challenging and commendable. Missing however, at least in this document, is a reaffirmation or call for a two-state solution in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and some creative activism such as positive investment in Palestinian business, produce and other aspects of the Palestinian economy. Peace can only be achieved through justice and reconciliation. That is true. But fairness and charity must also play a part.

Building Peace in Today's World Theme of Thursday at Assembly

The Most Rev. Dr. Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, moderated the morning plenary at the World Council of Churches' 10th Assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea today, challenging all those assembled to become true peacemakers. In his introduction he said that this was to be peace based on hope in spite of injustices. Then he invited the audience to observe a "café table discussion" with two speakers, Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Dr. Chang Yoon Jae of South Korea, a professor of theology at Ewha Women's University in Seoul, a member of the Presbyterian Church in Korea and a former officer of the Christian Conference of Asia.
The two told stories of the past and present in their work for peace in two very distinct parts of the world.
Ms. Gbowee spoke of the trauma of the Liberian civil war. She pointed to the fact that Liberian women were the ones who pressed Charles Taylor to the peace table. A film was shown documenting the event. She shared that she herself had a transformation from anger into peacemaking. She said, "Peacemaking is a vocation, not social work."
Dr. Chang spoke of the need for an exodus among the Korean people. First, there was the exodus journey into peace into a divided Korea. But after 60 years there is still no treaty. Koreans don't want to live forever in anxiety. So, there is the second exodus to peace in a reunified Korea that is eschatological in its dimensions. Finally, there is an exodus into the light; away from nuclear weapons and nuclear power. To demonstrate this, Dr. Chang had all the lights turned off in the auditorium, lit a candle, and was joined by all in singing This Little Light of Mine.
Archbishop Makgoba then asked the two of them what challenges they would set forth for the WCC and the world.
Ms. Gbowee said in Liberia they must righten history, end their ethnic divisions and begin to find a place, "where we're not waiting for someone to apologize." To the world and the churches she said we can no longer be bystanders. If we are, "we might as well be with those who are shooting people."
Dr. Chang stayed with the theme of journey or pilgrimage. He noted we need to make peace with the earth and turn away from our dependence on fossil fuels. "We need civilization change, not climate change," he said.
This was followed by three members of an audience that had been set up on the stage: Mr. Stanley J. Noffsinger of the United States of America, general secretary of the Church of the Brethren, a peace church, Ms. Agata Abrahamian, from Iran, an Armenian Orthodox and Mr. Fabian Corrales of Costa Rica, a Baptist. Being deaf, he both signed and spoke his presentation. The three spoke of the struggles of being peace makers, of living in their different societies and of hopes for peace.
The plenary came to a close with those on the stage holding up banners for peace and singing a hymn for peace. The challenge remains: can the churches together demand peace in our world?