image006On June 22 of this year I received the Luminosa Award for Unity. This weekend of June 20-22 in Hyde Park, New York, was a time of profound encouragement for me and for the work of ACT3 Network.

This week I am going to post my acceptance speech in five parts, each running about 600 words in length. 

At the end of each part there is a video of the entire speech. If you watch the video you will see that I departed from this script more than once, injecting aspects of what I felt led to say in the moment. (I have never been very good at staying on script!)

Today you can read the first part of my prepared acceptance speech here. You can see the entire video at the end if you’d like to watch it.

I wish to begin by expressing my deepest gratitude to my friends of the Focolare, friends I have known since 2012 and many new friends that I’ve just come to know this weekend. Thank you for inviting me to be your honored guest in Hyde Park on this lovely weekend. The Luminosa Award for 2014 humbles me more profoundly than you can possibly know.

I also want to thank the board members of the ACT3 Network who have believed in me, and affirmed God’s call upon my life. These men and women have shared in my life and work through difficult times, times of tears, tears because of struggle and tears because of joy.  When our mission had so little reason to believe that God was going to bless us in the vision that he gave to me from John 17:21 they still supported me. ACT3, which is an acronym for Advancing the Christian Tradition in the 3rd Millennium, is a ministry that began with a focus on spiritual renewal but then embraced the vision I call missional-ecumenism. We believe that unity in Christ’s mission is a distinct pathway to gospel renewal. Because of my background, my particular academic training and my ecclesial associations I have always been a part of the church that is called “evangelical.” Sadly, modern evangelical Christianity has not contributed to, nor received from, the larger ecumenical movement, at least since the middle of the last century.  This was not always so if you read the history of ecumenism leading up to the formation of the World Council of Churches in 1948. During my lifetime this vibrant movement for evangelism and mission has had either an ambivalent response to the word and work of ecumenism or, in some cases, a response rooted in deep hostility.

I would also like to thank my good friend Gerald Stover. It was less than three years ago that he attended a meeting in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, where we first met. Gerald asked me if I had heard of the Focolare. (I had not.) He encouraged the brothers and sisters of the Focolare in Chicago to invite me into their circle of love. There I saw what lived unity meant in a whole new light. Almost immediately the Focolare became important to me and now has become important to the larger ministry of ACT3 as we seek to partner together in the Lord’s mercy and grace. This happened at just the time when God knew that I needed to receive from many of you. The love and respect that I have received from my Focolare friends has been a well of profound joy in the work of the gospel.

It was through these friendships that I learned of the life and ministry of Chiara Lubich. I began to read her work in 2012. Over the last several months I have read a great deal, especially on love and unity. Her work has become the nourishing and life-changing resource that feeds my own mission. Her charism so parallels my own that I cannot but doubt that she rejoices today in my work for love and Christian unity. This has all come about through Chiara’s unique expression of spirituality. I will comment on this in a few moments but I must say here that this spirituality, a spirituality which I resolutely believe to be that of the early Christians who first experienced Christ’s love and unity, is what I have hungered for since I was a child in my small home town in Tennessee in the 1950s. It is so simple yet it is amazingly profound. It speaks eloquently to my mind while it deeply transforms my soul. It meets me in my inner longing for living and experiencing God’s love. It is a spirituality that I am still learning but it continually renews me in the image of Christ.

The entire speech runs 53-minutes in length.