Mainer find common threads of faith at national workshop

by Elizabeth Barker Ring
Diocesan Ecumenical Officer

Last week I attended the National Workshop on Christian Unity and Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers Annual Meeting. This year we worked with both our desire for visible unity as Christians and our collegial relationships with other religions.

Our Ecumenical work centers on making our Christian unity visible through our relationships with other denominations. We are already in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Moravian Church in North America, The Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, the Philippine Independent Church, and the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of Malabar, India. We are in a time of Interim Eucharistic Sharing with the United Methodist Church. We have formal dialogues with the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Roman Catholic Church. We also are in conversation with members of the eastern Orthodox Churches.

We are active members of the National Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches, Churches Uniting in Christ, and Christian Churches Together, and many local councils of churches.

Our conversations with other religions are centered on finding our common values and the places where we can stand side by side in support of our shared understandings of justice and living faithfully. All partners in these conversations are clear that we are not about converting each other, but about finding issues and occasions on which we can witness together as people of faith.

This most recent National Workshop on Christian Unity and Annual Meeting of the Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers included keynote presentations, Bible study, and workshops to help us move deeper into both our ecumenical and our interfaith relationships.

The four days were woven together with wonderful and diverse worship experiences. Joyous opening worship was held at an AME Zion church. Morning prayers featured evangelical music, Taizé liturgy, and guided silent prayer. On Tuesday evening, we celebrated Communion at St. Peters Roman Catholic Church; on Wednesday evening, we celebrated Communion at St. Peters Episcopal Church. Each service used the same music and the parallel shape of the liturgies was very clear. This intentional example of what we share was powerful.

Sandra Keating started our program time off with a presentation on Nostra Aetate and, in particular insights from the Catholic-Muslim dialogue. It is important to note that our credibility as Christians is compromised by our lack of visible unity. Muslim concern about our disunity goes back to the 6th and 7th centuries and our common search for truth and for God. The text of Nostra Aetate is found here.

Amy-Jill Levine led the morning bible studies, guiding us through the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son using the lens of historical context of Second Temple Judaism and the wider cultural/political climate of the first century. How these stories would have been heard by the people of those times is quite different from how we most often use them as allegories today, which takes a lot of the punch out of them. Her insights prodded us to look more closely at what it means to live as Christians today and to look at the layers that we have added over the centuries as we talked about making our Christian unity visible and living into the risky, gritty business of being disciples of Christ. Levine explores these three parables in the first chapter of her book, Short Stories by Jesus.

We were honored by the presence of two prominent Imams, Abdul Malik Mujahid, Board Chair of the Parliament of the Worlds Religions, and Abdullah Antepli, faculty member at Duke Divinity School.

Mujahid spoke about the connection of war-terror-hate, the statistics that never make it into the press, and the importance of thought and communication. His skepticism is that interfaith actions are nice people doing nice things and going nowhere. He was clear that we need to be more business like and have goals. He recommends organizing a thinking retreat of local interfaith leaders to set an agenda and goals, and adopt a resolution to push back the rising tide of hate, anger, and fear. They anticipate 10,000 people at the 2015 Parliament in Salt Lake City; 5000 are already registered. Can Maine be there?

Antepli was Duke Universitys Muslim Chaplain at the time of the controversy about the Muslim Call to Worship using the chapel bells, an idea which he did not support. His recounting of the threats to his family, the rancor across the community, and the overwhelming unpleasantness was stunning. He stressed the importance of getting to know each other because God, having created our differences, commands us to know each other. This gentle mans presentation was one of the most important of the four days.

During our Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers meetings, we heard from Ellen Wondra about The Church: Towards a Common Vision, the new document that grows from Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry. She outlined the points of convergence of our understanding of Church that we have achieved in the years between 1982 and 2013 and the areas in which there is still work to do. The complete document can be downloaded here. It is a wonderful resource for study groups and the churchesresponses will be used to help us move further forward.

Together with our colleagues in United Methodist Ecumenical and Interreligious Training we heard from Tex Sample about the challenges of poverty and the implications for faith communities to respond with action and advocacy working toward tangible justice.

We had a chance to be in conversation with Margaret Rose, Presiding Bishops Deputy for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations and her colleague Richard Mammana. Richard is a wonderful addition to the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations and will be focussing his time on the Dialogues. Our membership on the Dialogue with the United Methodist Church will be including several new members, with gratitude to the retiring members and the important work they have done to bring us to where we are now. The first three resource documents for dioceses and congregations are available at Make Us One with Christ, A Theological Foundation for Full Communion, and Guidelines for Interim Eucharistic Sharing. The newest document, That They May Be One? is available from Amazon, and we hope will be available as a download soon.

Those of us from New England dioceses hope to hare with our bishops, and the bishop of the ELCA Synod, that we join the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign as a group. [Ed. Note: Bishop Lane gathered with 22 Maine faith leaders at USM on April 7 to Stand Shoulder to Shoulder against hate and violence in the name of religion.] This is a very tangible way to support our Muslim, and Jewish, sisters and brothers. This was part of the conversation about being the church in troubled times. The exponential benefits of taking this step together, we believe, would be significant. The work that Shoulder to Shoulder is doing is already making a positive difference in attitudes and actions.

If you would like to know more about any of these topics or what resources are available to introduce them to your congregation, please be in touch at

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