What is ecumenism? And why does it matter?

Two participants in the Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue held in Buffalo in September 2015

Two participants in the Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue
held in Buffalo in September 2015

I like to think of ecumenism as a jewel with many faces, a way that we can share the gifts of all races and genders … the graces of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers … in the richness of the spiritual heritage of the Christian church.

The value of ecumenism is this: It matters because Jesus desires it: “to draw all people to myself,” Our Lord said. Ephesians calls us “to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

As Bishop Charles Henry Brent wrote in his book The Mind of Jesus Christ: “Neither the Roman, the Greek, any of the Protestant churches with which I am familiar, nor our own, exhibits a superior Christian ethos. Each has its own distinctive type of righteousness and its individual disposition.”

So the goal of Christian unity would be to find a way to create a cooperation that draws on the distinctive strengths of each denomination and combines them. Brent also believed that Christians could make strides toward unity by considering their differences, rather than by ignoring them. As we Episcopalians have often said in recent years as we worked through some problems of our own: “Unity, not uniformity; common prayer, and an embracing common belief.”

Here in Buffalo we are a city that is racked by the gun violence that seems to be impacting the whole nation. There were 13 shootings in  one month this year in the City of Buffalo alone. The violence is all around us. It impacts all of our lives.

I find myself searching for something that I can do to help end this violence. There are no easy answers. As people of faith we know that even death is not the final word. Here is the deep need for human and Christian unity. Bishop Brent insisted that mission must go hand in hand with ecumenism. God has made us brothers and sisters in Christ: Is this not the fundamental witness we are called to? What is the mission to which we are called outside the doors of the church to bring peace and safety to our city, together?

In Christ, those filled with hatred can find the path of reconciliation. In Christ those whom everything divides can find the joy of living as brothers and sisters. That is what we as Christians are called to do. Finding ways to do that together is the goal of ecumenism.

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