Monday, July 28, 2014

Thoughts on Ecumenism

As someone who has always had a love/hate relationship with Ecumenism, I really loved Fr. Dwight Longnecker's article on Ecumenism today. For whatever reason, I always work hard at forging relationships with Christians of different stripes, particularly when I was still in ordained ministry. I became President of the local Ministerial Association as a matter of fact. Some of the most meaningful relationships I had as an ordained person were not with clergy from my own denomination but with pastors of other denominations.

When I was newly ordained, a local Ukrainian Orthodox priest took me under his wing and shared some of his wisdom with me. I have never forgotten that. I also thought very highly of the Lutheran pastors in the local ministerial association when I was in South Dakota, both ELCA and (cue the minor musical chord) Missouri Synod. And, of course, I thought highly of the Catholic clergy in South Dakota, which is probably why I took the conversion path that I did. I also, for whatever reason, always get along very well with the Evangelical crowd, though I doubt I agree that water is wet with a lot of those folks.

One of my major gripes about Ecumenism though usually came when some sort of joint worship service had to be done. Usually it was a Thanksgiving Eve service or something of the like with the ministerial association, though I saw a bit of it when I was at Cambridge as well. It always devolved into what I called the Liturgical Lowest Common Denominator. Eucharist was obviously out. The Missouri Synod boys, as I called them, would have nothing to do with any public prayer with other denominations and would not participate, though they came regularly to the Lectionary bible study, which always struck me as odd, because studying the Bible is a form of prayer. The general thinking was that we didn't want to offend anybody and thus show unity. That, to me, always seemed self defeating because the prayers usually being very "Great Spirit in the Sky"ish and vaguely Deist. The hymns were likewise very "Kumbaya" feel good folk Mass-y. The ending prayer service always felt contrived to be for that reason, and I dreaded going.

I always argued that I thought we would understand each other better if each church took turns leading the service. If we were at the Lutheran church, have the Lutherans do something from their tradition; same with the Catholics, Baptists, or whomever. I always got more out of learning about "separated brethren" by actually going to a service of their own. That's how I ended up meeting the Ukrainian Orthodox priest, as they did a Compline service on Wednesday evenings.

At the end of the day, I always viewed Ecumenism as something to work towards, but Ecumenism was never to whitewash our differences and pretend there were really no differences between us. That was just, frankly, a major deception. I always described Ecumenism as a place where everyone is welcome to sit down at the table and share (and hopefully learn and all that). By the same token, Ecumenism is *NOT* a process by which you (and your theological views) sitting down at the table means I had to give up my seat (and my views) at the table. Ecumenism is not a pretend fantasy world, nor is it a theological bullying fest where people with sincere convictions are asked to give them up or go home.   As Father Longnecker said in the article above, "True ecumenism is therefore tough, not sappy."

When Ecumenism becomes sappy, it becomes a pointless waste of time.


underground pewster said...

An Anglican priest who came from a Baptist background once told me how his mother responded to his explanation of ecumenicism. After attending one of those hold your hands together around the campfire lowest common denominator services, he told his mother that he felt like there just might be a chance that someday they all would be one. To that she responded, "You mean we all will be Baptists?"

C. Wingate said...

We used to do a rotating community Thanksgiving service, but ironically what really killed it off from what I could tell were the Catholics. The black Baptist preacher would come, and she was fine; the ELCA pastor was higher church than we were, which was pretty high at the time. So we would do a basic BCP evening prayer service, music and all. And the Catholic priests would all show up in street clericals. The last time our interim dragged them all into the sacristy and practically emptied the closet vesting them in something, anything. I think that was the last year for the service, because we got a woman for a rector and if they were going to pretend we were in different lines of work before that, they certainly weren't going to be caught dead in her church afterwards.