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President’s Column 2017

Tom Best

NAAE President, 2016-2017

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, 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 


Tom Best
NAAE President, 2015-2017


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.


Papers Presented:

  • 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”
  • The Shepherds sing; and shall I silent be?*

President’s Message, January 2016

– A message not just for Christmas, but for the year – and all the years – to come.

In a very creative meeting in September 2015 at Niagara Falls, we began to craft an NAAE response to the WCC Faith and Order text The Church: Towards a Common Vision. We will keep you informed as our response process moves forward.

Meanwhile we are looking forward to the next NAAE gathering: 23-25 September, 2016 at Candler School of Theology in Decatur, Georgia (near Atlanta). We will meet under the theme “Commemorating the Reformation: Churches Looking Together Toward 2017 – and Beyond”.

2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of events leading to the split between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. While there were important precursors of reformation, and the later story was indeed complex, 2017 serves as a marker for the division of the churches in the West, that is, for the Protestant Reformation.

Today, churches in the ecumenical movement seek to learn lessons together from this history of division, and to use the occasion as an inspiration for further work towards unity, In this spirit we will hear from a range of scholars and church leaders (Protestant, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox) closely involved in preparations for the event in international, regional, national and local contexts. We are proud to have among our speakers William Rusch, John Radano, Patrick Henry III, Robert Welsh, and Catherine Clifford, as well as prominent local figures. More information to come!

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. We are looking this year for early registration, starting after Easter on 27 March. Please register via the NAAE Website as soon as possible after that for our meeting 23-25 September 2016. Thank you!

With all good wishes, and looking forward to seeing you in 2016,

Tom Best


Who We Are: 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. Members of the Academy receive a subscription to the Journal of Ecumenical Studies as a benefit of membership.

*Christmas, George Herbert, 1593-1633

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