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.
By Fr. Alan Perry