“We would, therefore, earnestly request our Churches to consider whether they are doing all they ought to do to manifest the oneness of the people of God.”
What is Ecumenism?
Ecumenism is the practice whereby Christians of different denominations come together for conversation, common mission, or formal agreements. Ecumenism happens all the time, in different forms. Want to learn more? Here are seven facts about ecumenism, including some history from within the Episcopal tradition.
1. The roots are deep
In 1886 The Episcopal House of Bishops created a document that in 1888 was incorporated into Resolution 11 of the Lambeth Conference. These documents, known as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, laid a crucial foundation for ecumenism because they expressed four tenets of Anglican is a succinct form.
- The Holy Scriptures, as containing all things necessary to salvation
- The Creeds (specifically, the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds), as the sufficient statement of Christian faith
- The Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion
- The historic episcopate, locally adapted
These four points provided a starting point for subsequent relationships of Interim Eucharistic Sharing and/or Full Communion with the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Moravian Church, and others. A powerful foundation indeed!
2. The Lund Principle
This ecumenical statement came out of a 1952 World Conference on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches in Lund Sweeden. It states:
“We would, therefore, earnestly request our Churches to consider whether they are doing all they ought to do to manifest the oneness of the people of God. Should not our Churches ask themselves whether they are showing sufficient eagerness to enter into conversation with other Churches, and whether they should not act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately?”
In 1976 the General Convention of the Episcopal Church passed a resolution affirming the Lund Principle and urging the church at every level to live into its calling.
3. The “deep differences”
While ecumenism often helps Christians focus on their similarities which draws us together, identifying differences is also a key aspect of the process. The “deep differences” are what the formal dialogues address, particularly when it comes to sharing of ordained ministries and the Communion table.
4. Ecumenism creates powerful voice in the public square
Everyday ecumenism, guided by the Lund Principle, is about praying together; it is about exponentially increasing our voices on social justice and service in our local communities. Joint prayer services, shared food pantries and clothing closets, after school programs for children, advocating in public forums for people whose voices are muted, and being catalysts for positive change are all things that benefit from our combined voice. Any time you can say “I’m with you on that” is an opportunity to explore how we can display visible Christian unity and make a bigger difference.
5. Ecumenism is FUN
Doing things together is fun. It lessens the burden on any one congregation (“more hands make light work”). It opens avenues of understanding so that we can share stories of how our particular expression of faith in worship feeds our souls, and gives us a chance to learn from the experiences of others.
6. Ecumenical possibilities may be right under your nose
Working ecumenically in our communities is joyful. Don’t be timid. Reach out to other congregations and ask “what would happen if we … together?” This is especially pertinent when you are planning a fair or seasonal celebration. If you have a labyrinth, encourage people from other congregations to walk it. If you hold Taize worship services, invite others to join you as participants and leaders. The possibilities are many. One congregation I know is planning a Blessing of the Animals in a town park. What can you do together in your community?
7. Two important dates for ecumenism
World Communion Sunday: First Sunday in October, this year Sunday October 5.
This observance has become slightly less recognizable over the years. The next date, however, continues to be a big deal.
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: January 18 to 25, every year.
This week is bookended by the feast days dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul. There are fabulous resources for this week, and you have time to check them out!
Elizabeth Ring is a consultant for Lifelong Learning and Leadership Development. She served for 27 years as Director of the Maine Diocesan Resource Center managing the collection of materials, leading workshops and training events, and assisting with Diocesan Convention. She blogs at pebblesinapond.wordpress.com.
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