In 1963 a group of Roman Catholics, in the immediate context of Vatican II, saw a need to equip local leadership for the task of ecumenical ministry. In 1969 these Catholic leaders invited leaders from several other Christian communions to join them in this equipping of leadership for unity. The result of this invitation was the formation of an organization now called the National Ecumenical Officers. This group is made up of representatives of the respective churches who oversee a workshop that is planned annually by national and local committees. Today this gathering is called the National Workshop on Christian Unity and it is sponsored by the National Ecumenical Officers Association.
The National Workshop on Christian Unity meets after Easter each year and includes both denominational and ecumenical sessions during the three-day workshop. The 50th year of the National Workshop on Christian Unity began last evening in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The workshop opened this year with a worship service at the Cathedral of St. John (Episcopal). Bishop David Bailey preached. Bailey is the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Navajo-land. Monday also included a number of meetings for the various officers of the National Ecumenical Officers Association during the daytime hours. Today and tomorrow (April 29-30) a number of seminars take place that are designed for laity, clergy, theologians, ecumenical officers and the staff of ecumenical organizations. These seminars encourage the exchange of ideas and experiences that can help us pursue unity. One of the clear goals of this gathering is to develop networks which can serve as a framework for interaction.
The theme of this year’s meeting is: “Has Christ Been Divided?” The program is built around providing insightful responses and teaching that will help participants answer this question with a resounding “No.” The goal is to celebrate the unity that we already enjoy and to search for new ways to overcome our remaining divisions. My first attendance at the National Workshop on Christian Unity was in Columbus, Ohio, last year. I enjoyed it immensely but I also felt the tent should be stretched out and new people should be encouraged to come into this impressive dialogue. Little did I know that what I had prayed for would turn my prayer back upon me. A few months ago I received one of the items I had prayed for last year via a phone call.
At the noon luncheon of the National Workshop on Christian Unity today (Tuesday), I will give a plenary address titled: “Is There an Emerging New Ecumenism – Evangelical Engagement with Catholics and Protestants?” I am pleased, beyond words, to share my story and give a personal appeal for missional-ecumenism in this mainline setting. I believe my message, and this historic gathering, are both deeply connected. We need one another more than I think any of us may realize. I am just beginning to understand the impact that the mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic ecumenism has had over the last fifty years by direct participation in this kind of setting. At the same time there is an ever growing opportunity to bring the concerns of evangelical ecumenism into this wider arena the more I have the opportunity to tell my story and interact with these wonderful Christians. I hope that what I have to say at lunch today will feed into what I believe the Spirit is saying to the churches.
If you are a friend of ACT3, or know me personally, would you please pray today for this meeting and for my presentation between noon and 1:30 p.m. (MDT)? Would you also pray for these three days where I will personally share my time and life with national leaders in ecumenism. I did not come to New Mexico as a person with a bunch of answers but rather as a brother on a journey that I believe has been led by the Spirit in the context of John 17:21. The presentation that I give today is at the very heart of ACT3 Network’s vision and purpose: “Empowering leaders and churches for unity in Christ’s mission.”