William’s Column

President’s Column 2019

William McDonald
NAAE President, 2017-19

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!


William McDonald
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!

That we may be one,
William McDonald

Posted in Conferences.