A Pentecostal Bishop, a Lutheran Bishop, together with the Society of Jesus, all assembled in one chapel; this is the picture of ecumenical worship. In a countercultural resistance of hegemonic paternalism, each is fully respected for embodying their faith, tradition, and culture. No one diminished by religious privilege, supremacy and dogmatism, rather celebrated and honored for the richness they bring to the table. In marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the School of Theology and Ministry of Seattle University is endeavoring to live into the prophetic call of what ecumenism can be in the world.
Ecumenism is grounded in the principle that divisions among Christians openly contradict the will of Christ, scandalize the world, and damage the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature. Pope John XXIII noted the need for ecumenism by acknowledging that, unfortunately, the entire Christian family has not yet attained visible unity in truth (Cassidy 2005). To fully understand the heartbeat of ecumenical liturgy and worship one must consider that its aim of preserving unity in essentials does not contradict or disrupt the work of each one in the church, according to the office entrusted to him, preserving proper freedom in the various forms of spiritual life and discipline (Cope 1997). The work of ecumenical gatherings is to fully acknowledge that we can be one with even in moments we are not one of; this is the full and faithful witness of the Church.
Authentic worship involves the transformation of cultural patterns that idolize the self or a particular group at the expense of wider humanity (Wilkey 2014). Cultures are not foreign countries to Christians, they are homelands that Christians are called to engage with an eye toward radical transformation. What it means in this moment for our liturgical gatherings to be impactful is that they actively engage the countercultural work of unity. True unity in worship allows for each participant to bring their whole selves to the work. Not everyone finds the ecumenical moment their home, but everyone is at home because the entire person is invited to embody their selfhood in relationship to the Divine. Always a way must be found for bringing into one’s solitary place the settled look from another’s face, for getting the quiet sanction of another’s grace to undergird the meaning of self (Thurman 1984). The light of Christ is magnified when we lift one another and celebrate the richness of our diversity.
The prophetic call of the Reformation in this sociopolitical moment is a call to the church to be her highest and most authentic self. There are more than 250 denominations or religious bodies listed in the 12th edition of the Handbook of Denominations in the United States (more in the 13th edition), and each of them offer some distinction in human relationship with the Divine and yet all are bound together in one universal mystical body of Christ. It must never be forgotten that the church is the community of God’s faithful people everywhere.
As we remember Martin Luther’s 95 theses and its import to the life of the church today, let us be mindful that human beings cannot incorporate all that we are into wholeness by ourselves. Let us remember the role of the church must be to become the place where disparate parts of our humanity can be bound together and then kept from being separated again (Spong 2001). In order for the church to accurately reflect the liberative message of the Gospel of the Christ, church must be fully reflective of the particulars of all God’s offspring, working in harmony as siblings rooted and built up in Christ Jesus.
Cassidy, Edward Idris. 2005. Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue. Mahwah: Paulist Press.
Cope, Michael Kinnamon and Brian E. 1997. The Ecumenical Movement: An Anthology of Key Texts and Voices. Geneva: WCC Publications.
Spong, John Shelby. 2001. A New Christianity For A New World. New York: Harper Collins.
Thurman, Howard. 1984. For the Inward Journey. Richmond, IN: Friends United Press.
Wilkey, Gláucia Vasconcelos, ed. 2014. Worship and Culture: Foreign Country or Homeland. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Peace Is Possible,
+ Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor