I’ve been home for several weeks now and had the time to think a great deal about my eight days in Rome. When I returned on March 15 the journey of faith was not over. I sat next to a young businessman from South India who was coming to Chicago to consider a possible career move to the U.S. His wife and three children were at home thinking about him and their future. This man saw me reading the Bible and asked, “Are you a Christian?” When I was done answering he told me that he and his wife had prayed that God would put someone in his life to help him as he came to America to make this life-changing decision. He thought I was that man. God knows but it seemed like more than a coincidence. We had an extremely fruitful conversation for many hours, sandwiched around some time to sleep. (He had been traveling all night before this day portion of his long journey.)
Now that I am home, and back into the routines of my life and ministry, I have been asked, “What were the truly important things that happened in Rome that have impacted your life the most deeply?” In some ways it is still premature to know the answers to this question but I will give it my best shot in two posts.
1. Missional-ecumenism on the margins became a powerful expanding paradigm for me. Nate Bacon wrote the members of our team a follow-up letter and included these observations about what we did together:
Our objective was simple, to put our version (in its diversified form) of missional-ecumenism on the map — on the conversation table — amongst some key ecumenical [leaders]. I feel that, by God's grace, our efforts were an overwhelming success in this arena. By the numbers, we should not have been at the table at all, but by God's economy we were, and I am grateful. I was encouraged by the amount of sincere interest in our “little springtimes,” as well as the invitation to write and tell our story in a way that could help bring practical balance to the theological arena. John Hayes helped us to humbly and consistently offer ourselves in this way, and it is clear that the offer was taken seriously.
We went to Rome to learn how to better serve the body of Christ and we learned a great deal more than we might have in any other context. I know I was profoundly drawn to a larger vision and hope.
2. Our small team experienced grace within our own relationships in ways that encouraged me very deeply. I’ve seen such groups come apart before one day is even over. I’ve been around powerful leaders and watched this happen more than I can tell you. But again Nate Bacon spoke correctly when he summarized our experience in these words:
As one would expect (and even hope for) there was a fair share of diversity even amongst ourselves. By God's grace I believe frictions were kept to a relatively miniscule level (especially when one considers how much Satan would like to destroy such efforts) and on the positive side we were each able to contribute in unique ways from a very healthy common center. I am especially grateful for Jose and Deanna [Hayes] who blessed us, and saved us from being all-white-male which is extremely important.
We were often tired, stretched and weak. But the Spirit protected us from evil and sinful responses to one another. I felt so loved by five people that I had never previously met and by one [John Green] who I am just getting to know so much better now that we shared these intense days as friends. There are no shortcuts in ecumenism. You must be willing to put your own prejudice and pride aside for others. You must long for deep friendship in Christ. I went with this desire and it was dramatically increased.
3. Ecumenism is alive and well in the world. Major papers of immense personal and academic value are still being written. Large projects are being carried on in every part of the Christian Church. If nothing else Catholics and Protestants are not killing one another any longer. We may have entered a “winter” in some respects but there is a “spring” time just beginning for missional-ecumenism as I’ve explained and defended it. I am prepared to give all that I have to this vision.
I have written these long blogs to give you more than a travel survey. I hope some of you have been drawn into a vision. (The group of men in the photo here, taken at lunch on March 14, included Catholic, Anglican and Waldensian clergy. The fact that such a group meets monthly in Rome was a profound encouragement to me.) If ministers and lay leaders can communicate Christ’s love to each other in Rome we can do it elsewhere.
I hope you’ve seen things in these reports that you have longed to see and that you are feeling new love for the global catholic church. I hope you will become, with me and my new friends, missional-ecumenists. I specially hope you will join us (ACT 3) as we move to the margins where so many Christians fear going with the gospel.
4. Missional-ecumenism always involves taking risks. I was very divided about making this trip. I tried to talk my way out of it only to have the Lord push me pretty hard to go. My health issues were a major obstacle but the Lord kept me safe and strong through the whole ordeal. And you know what, a 62-year old guy should have been tired keeping up with the schedule Nate had set for our group!
A word of thanks here to all who prayed. I did not talk about this trip in advance because I seek to protect my family on the home front when I am so far from home. But now that I have returned I can see how much God blessed me and protected my loved ones. We should always be willing to take risks for the kingdom. I am glad I took this one. Looking back I can not imagine I would have been ready for such a trip until 2011. God knows us and our times. Be prepared to launch out into the deep in your life. We can trust him in all things.
Tomorrow: Reflections on My Missional-Ecumenical Journey, Part Two