It goes without saying that we live in polarized times. From Brexit to border wall, political divergence comes immediately to mind as a sign of the times, as do an ugly resurgence of white supremacy, growing income inequality, and the questioning of accepted norms in scientific method. The world comes flying apart!
Who better knows about the business of division than ecumenists? It’s our stock in trade. We look to history—theological and institutional—to diagnose how unity was quickly lost in Christ’s ecclesial body. And, as Robert Wilken shows us in The Myth of Christian Beginnings, the church never had a golden age of unity from which we fell. No sooner had believers joined hands at the foot of the cross, or rejoiced together in the “one place” of Pentecost before they were asking (again) who among them was the greatest, or who had a lock on the truth. Despite claiming the cross as compass and the Spirit as guide, there has been endless fissiparousness, sometimes thinly veiled under a cloak of nominal unity. Ecumenists know disunity, and not only can we tell you how it happened, we are keenly aware that we live in it daily.
In hoping for unity, Wilken suggests we look not to the past, but to the future. Ecumenists are called to sow seeds of unity through dialog and praxis, and so participate in the many harbingers of a unity to which the whole church is being drawn by the Spirit’s tethers. Such unity comes through listening to one another in love, sharing one another’s gifts, and finding ways to live the unity we discover by working together in the Lord’s vineyard. And so, what came flying apart slowly begins to come back together in new and exciting ways.
NAAE has a long history of carefully discussing all facets of Christian ecumenism. That’s our mission. Ecumenical dialog, though, takes place in a circle still wider, encompassing the human family’s many communities of faith beyond Christianity. There, too, things have come flying apart, the collateral damage produced by centuries of war, colonialism, and cultural polarizations of all sorts. Interfaith dialog seeks to build bridges of trust and understanding among the world’s religions. The intra-Christian conversations of ecumenists and the inter-religious dialog of representatives of the world’s faiths are instructive for one another methodologically, topically, and in terms of their outcomes. Some ecumenists have participated on both ecumenical and interfaith conversations, building bridges across both ecclesial and religious borders. What can we learn from dialogs with those beyond the Christian world? Do interfaith dialogs suggest new approaches for ecumenists in their work? What do ecumenists and interfaith dialog participants have to learn from one another? In what ways does this historical moment make interreligious dialog particularly urgent? Can the two forms of dialog be mutually beneficial? What yields or examples from both might be lifted up and critically examined?
With these questions in mind, we will meet in Montreal for the 2019 NAAE annual conference, where our theme will be: “Towards a new Détente: Ecumenical Outreach and Interfaith Dialogue in an Age of Uncertainty.” We will gather Friday, September 27 through Sunday the 29th at The Sign of the Theotokos Orthodox Church, 750 St Joseph Blvd E., in Montreal’s Plateau Mont Royale neighborhood. Conference registration will open on this website in late spring. Accommodations at a conference rate will be available at Hotel Auberge de la Fontaine, 1301 rue Rachel Est. Check back here for further information about the Auberge and other hotels in the area reserving rooms for the conference. Meanwhile, NAAE membership renewal rates (separate from conference registration) are posted here on the website. Fr. Joseph Arsenault, our treasurer, will also be sending out notices concerning membership renewal so that everyone stays informed, given adjustments in dues schedules agreed upon at last September’s meeting.
I hope the quest for a new détente brings you to Montreal in September!
NAAE President, 2017-19
President’s Column 2018
While ecumenical relationships are built in the experience of dialog (“faith and order”), and in practical ministry in the world (“life and work”), they are also sustained over time in congregations where two or more traditions gather under one roof for worship, spiritual growth, and mutual ministry. These “ecumenical shared ministries” (ESMs) are found across Canada and the U.S. and feature denominational full-communion relationships born of decades worth of theological dialog at national and international levels. They bridge Catholic and Protestant divides, even “magisterial” and “radical” branches of the Reformation. That is, they live daily with the questions generated by the ecumenical movement’s faith and order and life and work branches! How do they do it? What theological and practical issues unite and continue to divide such churches? What do these ecumenical local congregations have to teach the rest of the church about the continuing search for Christian unity?
We will explore these questions during the 2018 NAAE Conference, “Living Unity: Ecumenical Shared Ministries” to be held September 28-30, 2018, at the Crystal City Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. This year’s speakers include:
Rev. Dr. Tom Ryan, CSP, Paulist Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, Boston, MA
Dr. Gerard Mannion, Department of Theology, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
Rev. Dr. Sandra Beardsall, Professor of Church History and Ecumenics, St. Andrew’s College, Saskatoon, SK
Dr. Mitzi Budde, Head Librarian and Professor, Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, VA
Rev. Dr. William McDonald, Professor of Religion, Tennessee Wesleyan University, Athens, TN
In addition, there will be a panel of representatives from ecumenical congregations who will share their stories about living and doing ministry together in their local contexts.
As always, there promises to be much to feed the heart and mind in this year’s conference. Last year’s topic of liturgy will continue in this year’s papers and conversations about how ecumenical congregations negotiate matters of worship and sacramental participation. How, too, do theological tensions among traditions make a difference in shared life “at the grassroots”? Naturally in the mix of topics will be matters of ecclesiology. Worship is an integral part of our time together, thoughtfully prepared and led by NAAE members. Per NAAE tradition, there will be a Saturday evening banquet, and ample time to get to know folk from across the gamut of ecumenical life, whether laity, parish clergy, faculty, students, or denominational officials.
This year, NAAE board members are urged to arrive at the Crystal City Hilton by noon on Thursday, September 27th for a retreat. We will spend that time together planning for the academy’s future as a key part of North American ecumenical activity. Board members should expect to remain through the closing board lunch on Sunday the 30th. The Hilton is located adjacent to Washington’s Reagan National Airport, facilitating ease of transport to and from the airport
Please continue to check the NAAE website at www.naae.net, where registration for our next meeting should be open by 1 March 2018. Hotel registration will be available by that date through a separate website (see Conference Information elsewhere on this page).We urge you to register for the meeting (and renew your NAAE membership if necessary) as soon as possible. See you at the Crystal City Hilton in September. Thank you!
Following our excellent 2016 meeting on the theme “Commemorating the Reformation” at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, The North American Academy of Ecumenists is looking forward to an equally stimulating and rewarding gathering 22 – 24 September 2017 in Boston.
Our theme for 2017 will be “Worship in Ecumenical Contexts: A Once and Future Vision – What Have We Learned? What are our Limits – and Future Possibilities?”
Why this theme, and why today? Worship is a touchstone of the ecumenical movement. One of deepest gifts of the ecumenical movement has been our increasing ability to celebrate, through worshipping together, the unity which is ours through our common baptism into Christ. But in worship we also experience our remaining divisions – partly over forms and styles of worship but especially as, through sincere differences of understanding and conviction, we are not all able to partake together at the Lord’s Table.
After more than one hundred years of worshipping together across confessional lines – with all the possibilities and limitations that involves – it is time to draw a balance, to ask: how can we broaden and deepen our experience of worshipping together, within the limitations that remain? How can we work together to overcome those limitations? How can our experience of worshipping together inform, chasten, and challenge all our ecumenical work?
We are gathering an exceptional group of speakers including Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox leaders in the field of worship at international, regional and local levels: John Baldovin, Gordon Lathrop, Paul Meyendorff, William Petersen, and Karen Westerfield Tucker. In addition a panel will explore the local worship scene within the dynamic and creative ecumenical situation in Boston – where a Week of Prayer celebration in January, 2017 brought together no fewer than 800(!) participants, church leaders and members alike.
The worship life during our meeting promises to be as substantial and inspiring as ever, thanks to all those who prepare and participate in it. And apart from these program and worship elements of our meeting, there are our participants themselves, all with their own wealth of ecumenical commitment and experience. The chance to interact with our own members and colleagues, to be inspired by them, is itself worth attending the meeting.
We are pleased to be hosted in 2017 by the School of Theology and Ministry (STM, Thomas D. Stegman, S.J., Dean) at Boston College. Thanks to STM for its generous support of our meeting!
Our venue will be the Connors Conference Center, 20 Glen Street, Dover, MA 02030, an ideal location in a beautiful residential setting southwest of Boston, with access from Logan International Airport, Boston. Transportation information will be provided in due course.
Please plan to arrive by early afternoon on Friday 22 September, with departures on Sunday afternoon 24 September. (If travel times require you to arrive early, we will make every effort to accommodate this.) Office holders and Board members should count on meeting about 3:00 pm on Friday afternoon, and should plan to stay for lunch (until about 2:00 pm) on Sunday.
Please continue to check the NAAE Website at www.naae.net, where registration for our next meeting should be open by 1 May 2017. We urge you to register for the meeting (and renew your NAAE membership if necessary) as soon as possible. Thank you!
With all good wishes, and looking forward to seeing you in Boston 22 -24 September 2017,
Tom Best NAAE President, 2015-2017
PRESS RELEASE NORTH AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ECUMENISTS (NAAE) ANNUAL CONFERENCE, SEPTEMBER 23-25, 2016 – ATLANTA, GA, USA
North American Ecumenists Explore Wider Implications of 2017 “Commemoration”
The North American Academy of Ecumenists (NAAE) held its annual conference at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta (Rev. Dr. Jan Love, Dean) this past weekend, meeting under the theme “‘Commemorating’ the Reformation: Churches Looking Together Toward 2017 – and Beyond.” Through presentations and conversations, about forty members of the Academy sought to probe the ecumenical significance of the 500th anniversary of the European reformations by asking what Christians have learned from those challenging events, and how the churches might use the anniversary to recommit themselves to harvesting the fruits – and “baking the bread” – of the ecumenical movement.
The speakers focused on the complex task of remembering and moving forward. Lutheran theologian Rev. Dr William Rusch reminded the group that the work of “commemorating” is a work in progress. Msgr. John Radano spoke on the lessons learned from 1517 as tools for shaping the future. Another Roman Catholic theologian, Dr. Catherine Clifford, challenged us to claim our inheritance – whether Catholic or Protestant – as a resource for moving forward together. Dr. Patrick Henry suggested that Christians must practice “creative remembering and prudent forgetting” in learning from our past, and moving into our ecumenical future.
There was also a clear emphasis on the fact that the commemoration of 1517 is not just for Catholics and Lutherans, but for all Christians. “What’s in it for us?” asked Dr. Robert Welsh, surveying responses to the “Commemoration” of the Reformation from many Christian World Communions. Several speakers urged the group to consider the joint text From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran Catholic Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017 (PCPCU and the LWF) as applicable to all churches.
The four prayer services during the event moved worshipers from repentance to reconciliation, to renewal, and finally to “Re-Catholicizing, Re-Evangelizing, Re-Forming” for the future.
A panel of prominent Atlanta-area church leaders and ecumenical practitioners, gathered by Candler Professor Emeritus Dr. Don Saliers, spoke of the passion, promises and challenges of their work in liturgy, musicianship, outreach, oversight, and ecumenical leadership.
Next year’s NAAE conference will take place in Boston, MA, 22-24 September, on the theme of worship as it has unfolded over one hundred years of Christians learning from and experiencing one another’s liturgical life.
Catherine Clifford, “Re-Membering for a Common Future”
Patrick Henry, “Creative Remembering – and Prudent Forgetting – On the Way to Christian Unity”
John Radano, “Our Ecumenical Future: Lessons Learned from 1517”
William Rusch, “‘Commemorating’ 2017: A Work in Progress”
Robert Welsh, “What’s in it for the Rest of Us? Perspectives on 2017 from the Christian World Communions”
North American Academy of Ecumenists (NAAE) Meeting 2016
Friday 23 – Sunday 25 September, 2016
Candler School of Theology, Decatur, GA (near Atlanta)
“Commemorating the Reformation: Churches Looking Together Toward 2017 – and Beyond”
2017 will be observed as the 500th anniversary of the split between Lutherans and Roman Catholics – and, in a broader sense, of the Protestant Reformation as a whole. It is a major milestone for churches committed to one another within the ecumenical movement.
The NAAE meeting in September, 2016 will offer background, resources, and inspiration for the churches as they seek to observe this event. What lessons can we learn from our bitter history of division? What moves are churches making, today, to heal past wounds? What ecumenical moves lie ahead of us, in God’s good time?
We will hear from a range of scholars and church leaders (Protestant, Anglican, Disciples, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox) closely involved in preparations for the event in international, regional, national and local contexts, including William Rusch, John Radano, Catherine Clifford, Patrick Henry III, and Robert Welsh, and, as well as representatives from the local ecumenical scene.
Our host, Candler School of Theology within Emory University, is a dynamic center for theological research and reflection, with a strong legacy of ecumenical commitment locally, nationally and internationally. The location is beautiful, the facilities new and welcoming, with easy access through Atlanta airport and then public transportation. It will be an ideal venue for our meeting!
Practical details: All our meetings and meals (except breakfast) will be at Candler School of Theology. Accommodation and breakfast will be at the nearby Emory conference center.
Please register for the meeting as soon as possible via the NAAE Website (www.naae.net). Thank you!
Our Ecumenical Future: Lessons to be Learned from the Events of 1517
Closely involved in the Lutheran/Roman Catholic Dialogue and its statement on Justification, Staff member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, 1984-2008, and PCPCU Liason to the WCC’s Faith and Order Commission, he now continues his long service on the faculty of Seton Hall University.
Rev. Dr. William Rusch
Our Ecumenical Future: Lessons to be Learned from the Events of 1517
Closely involved in the Lutheran/Roman Catholic Dialogue and its statement on Justification, former executive director of the ELCA Office for Ecumenical Affairs, and former member of the WCC’s Faith and Order Commission, he is now adjunct professor of Lutheran studies at Yale Divinity School.
Dr. Catherine Clifford
How Observe the Events of 1517? Methods and Options for Ecumenical Engagement
A full professor of the Faculty of Theology, Saint Paul University, Ottowa, she has written and edited extensively on ecumenical studies, sacramental theology, ecclesiology, and Vatican II, and maintains close links with religious communities.
Rev. Dr. Robert A. Welsh
Why Does it Matter? Inter-Confessional and Global Perspectives on the Events of 2017
Retiring in April, 2016 as Ecumenical Officer of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), he is Secretary of the Disciples/Roman Catholic International Dialogue, and has chaired the Secretaries of Christian World Communions as well as the Board of the Ecumenical Institute, Bossey (WCC).
Dr. Patrick Henry, III
Reconciling Memories: Creative Remembering – and Forgetting – on our Way to Christian Unity
Director of the Collegeville Institute from 1984, and a former Professor at Swarthmore College, he is a frequent and exorbitantly creative commentator on ecumenical, religious and cultural affairs.
The North American Academy of Ecumenists (NAAE) met at the Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre in Niagara Falls, Ontario, for its annual conference on 25-27 September 2015. The theme of the conference was “Crafting our Response” to the World Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Paper number 214, The Church: Towards a Common Vision (TCTCV). The paper, proposing a common ecumenical ecclesiology, was published in March 2013 for study and comment by churches and other bodies.
At its 2014 conference, in Burbank, California, the NAAE had received and discussed scholarly papers concerning the Faith and Order document, following a typical format for a scholarly conference. (These papers were subsequently published in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies.) The 2015 conference took the bold step of experimenting with Open Space, rather than using the usual scholarly conference format, to craft a formal response to TCTCV.
Open Space, a process first developed in the middle 1980’s, invites meeting participants to propose topics that they wish to discuss around a theme, and then meet in self-selecting small groups for collaborative brainstorming on the proposed topics. Using this process, NAAE members identified specific issues that they wished to explore, critique and affirm within the Faith and Order paper, and then discussed the issues in the Open Space small groups. Each group reported back to the plenary and provided a transcript of its discussion. An omnibus transcript of the conference was then compiled and submitted to a drafting team who took on the task of transforming this raw material into the NAAE’s formal response to TCTCV.
Reverting to a more traditional format for the conference banquet, the Academy heard a stimulating keynote address presented by the Reverend Canon Dr Alyson Barnett-Cowan, president of the Canadian Council of Churches.
The North American Academy of Ecumenists is a community of scholars from varied Christian traditions across North America who promote scholarship in the service of Christian Unity. Its membership includes theologians, ecumenists, graduate students, church officials, clergy, religious and laity actively pursuing Christian unity. The Academy ordinarily meets the last full weekend of September in an Annual Conference to consider papers on contemporary ecumenical issues from invited scholars. These papers are submitted exclusively to the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, which has first rights of publication. Members of the Academy receive a subscription to the Journal as a benefit of membership.
The Academy’s next annual conference, “Commemorating the Reformation: Churches Looking Together toward 2017 – and Beyond” will be held at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Decatur, Georgia, on 23-25 September 2016.
North American Academy of Ecumenists
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