National Workshop on Christian Unity

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At the end of last month, I had the opportunity to attend the National Workshop on Christian Unity in Tampa. This Workshop had its beginnings in 1963 when a group of Roman Catholics during the heady days of the Second Vatican Council, met to equip local leadership for the task of ecumenical ministry. In 1969, they invited leaders of other Christian communions to join and today the national ecumenical officers of the churches continue their oversight of the Workshop, which is planned by national and local committees. They are both denominational and ecumenical sessions during the Workshop. There have been 41 National Workshops on Christian Unity and I have attended half of them in my ecumenical career.

These workshops provide a setting for seminars, lectures and symposiums on all aspects of ecumenical and interreligious ministry. It use to be attended by ordained priests and ministers but now is also attended by laity, ecumenical officers, theologians and staff of ecumenical organizations. The Workshop is a stimulating exchange of ideas and experiences among people concerned with Christian unity and the churches, diocese and organizations that they represent. It brings together a balance among national planning and local responsibility, general ecumenical discussions and particular interchurch conversations. It fosters dialogue among denominational networks and celebrates the unity which already exists among Christians as it helps us to search for ways to overcome the divisions that remain.

The workshop began with an opening worship service at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, with Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta in attendance and Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori delivering the homily. Bishop Schori challenged participants at the Workshop to follow where Jesus is leading us in the quest for unity, in a manner that truly makes us “witnesses of these things.” Also in attendance were Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg and bishops and leadership from the other denominations that were attending the Workshop. As always the opening worship experience was full of rousing hymns, prayers and pageantry.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory delivered the keynote address at the opening session. Archbishop Gregory, who once served as the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, currently serves as chairman of the Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. His address included his overview of the current state of relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the other Christian bodies both here in the United States and around the world.

An array of seminars were available which included: Ecumenism 101, Ministry—A Retrospective on the Impact of Baptism-Eucharist-Ministry, Racism as an Impediment to Ecumenism, Origin of the Modern Ecumenical Movement-the 100th Anniversary of the Edinburgh Conference, Interfaith Relations, Ecumenical Consultation on Ethical Decisions, A Tale of Two Pontiffs—Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs between John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Preaching Ecumenism, Holy Spirit and Christian Unity, CCT Domestic Poverty Initiative, Building New Fire-Young Ecumenists and Just-Faith Curriculum. The Catholic network of ecumenists also offered two seminars: Interfaith Sensitivity—The New Testament and Judaism and Canonical Issues in Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations.

It was heartening to see so many young people at this year’s workshop. They engaged with more experienced members of the denominational networks and spent time sharing knowledge with their own peers. Another group present this year was New Fire. The New Fire gathering is a Christian ecumenical forum for current and future young adult leaders of different communions/denominations. They are into ecumenical relations building among young people. New Fire participants were committed to empowering cooperative networks of local, grassroots young adult ecumenical initiatives that can connect to the larger denominational and ecumenical bodies.

Don’t forget our wonderful Tri-Faith program, Breaking Bread Together, this Sunday, from 2-4 p.m. at St. Thomas More Church, 1439 Springdale Road, Cherry Hill. The topic is “Prayer in the Three Faith Traditions” of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All are welcome, admission is free and refreshments and fellowship will be served following the panel discussion. See you there.