National Workshop on Christian Unity

By The Rev. Mary M. Finklea, Convener of the Synod’s Ecumenical Network

National Workshop on Christian Unity 1

This spring, the National Workshop on Christian Unity brought together many different denominations for a time of work and worship. This gathering is a network of networks, including LEIRN (Lutherans), CADEIO (Catholics), EDEIO (Episcopalians), UMEIT (United Methodists), EPEDA (Evangelicals and Pentecostals), and others. These networks conduct their own network business meetings in some separate sessions and then come together for plenaries, worship, and break-out sessions. This model began over 40 years ago. Each year, the conference is held in a different location across the country to share the cost burden, and to spark a richer, local ecumenical conversation. This year we gathered in Silver Spring, Maryland, outside of DC where there is a strong local history of ecumenical engagement.

The Lutheran Ecumenical and Interreligious Representatives Network is composed of an Ecumenical Representative from every synod. Some synods have two, some have vacancies, and some synods are represented by the bishops themselves. Rev. Mary Finklea serves as the SC Synod ecumenical representative and is a member of the LEIRN Board. She is available to you and your congregation for educational events. Are you interested in learning more about the ecumenical outreach of the ELCA? Feel free to contact her with questions, comments, or concerns: pastorfinklea@bellsouth.net

National Workshop on Christian Unity 2 “A Declaration of Our Inter-Religious Commitment”

A couple of years ago, a task force was formed to draft a policy statement on inter-religious relations. This statement is now ready for your review and comments. “A Declaration of Our Inter-Religious Commitment: A Draft Policy Statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America” can be found at this link: ___ This is a rough draft shared with the bishops, Lutheran Ecumenical and Inter-religious Representatives, congregations and the whole church to be reviewed, edited, and shaped before it goes to ELCA Church Council and then the 2019 Churchwide Assembly. Recently, at the National Workshop on Christian Unity, participants spent time discussing this important work.

You, too, are asked to participate. The comment period will close on June 30, 2018. Please take some time, complete it as an individual, gather together a Sunday School class, assemble the youth group, women’s or men’s group, to review and add your comments. Rev. Mary Finklea, our Ecumenical Representative, can help you with this. Feel free to contact her with your questions. Engagement with our neighbors enriches our lives and our faith. Let us work together to help create a coherent and constructive document to guide our dialogue with inter-religious partners.

National Workshop on Christian Unity 3 “Racial Justice”

The National Workshop on Christian Unity brings together ecumenical representatives, ecumenists, and interested members from all churches who share one faith, one baptism in Jesus Christ. The primary focus of this year’s workshop was working together on our common journey as followers of Jesus to heal the wounds of discord and separation so that the world may believe. We were joined by church leaders to explore more deeply the amazing gifts of reconciliation that we have experienced in recent decades. These gifts include new relationships among church bodies, as well as new commitments to restoring communion among traditions.

The sin of racism was also named as an obstacle to Christian Unity. Racial justice is an important element to the ecumenical endeavor. One afternoon outing that was offered to attendees was to visit the new National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Mall in Washington, DC. What a moving experience this was! If you are ever afforded the opportunity to visit, please go! The museum is a Smithsonian Institution and includes more than 37,000 objects related to community, family, the visual and performing arts, religion, civil rights, and slavery, and segregation. A display on African American women called to public ministry is included. An entire slave cabin from Edisto Island is installed in an exhibit.

A very somber room, punctuated with tears, whispers and prayers, holds 14-year old Emmett Till’s casket. (In 2005, the State of Mississippi would not reopen the case unless the body buried was proven to be Emmett’s. State law prohibits reburial of the old casket, so he was buried in a new casket.) Emmett Till’s racially motivated torture and murder was a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. It was his mother’s brave insistence for an open casket that afforded no one denial in the brutality of his death. People that were on the fence regarding the destructive force of racism were compelled to acknowledge the problem.

Still today racism keeps many people of faith separated from one another, and ecumenical work must include naming and confronting this barrier to unity.

National Workshop on Christian Unity 4 “Ecumenical Update”

At the National Workshop on Christian Unity, Churchwide staff Kathryn Johnson and Kathryn Lohre provided synodical ecumenical representatives an update on ecumenical and interreligious relations across the church. The many and various ways these two women are ambassadors of the Kingdom of God are mind-boggling. A few highlights are listed below.

500th anniversary of the Reformation events happened all over the country. Bulletins and other memorabilia is being collected and stored for archival purposes. (South Carolina submitted pictures and bulletins of the joint worship service held at the seminary, the North and South Carolina Lutheran service held in Charlotte, and pictures of the 5-candle commemorative candelabra.)

The 12th Lutheran World Federation Assembly was held in Namibia under the theme, “Liberated by God’s Grace”. Some excellent resources and study guides follow the sub-themes: Salvation-Not For Sale; Human Beings-Not For Sale; and Creation-Not For Sale. These come highly recommended from parish pastors for Sunday School classes and adult forums. Check them out online.

Lutheran-Catholic dialogue continues to be blessed by the work from “From Conflict to Communion” and “Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry, and Eucharist”. These documents are powerful and people in the pews are finding them helpful.

In regard to Lutheran-Muslim relations, in July of 2017, the ELCA had a significant presence at the Islamic Society of North America and Bp. Eaton was honored to receive ISNA’s interfaith unity award.
The Lutheran-Jewish dialogue on pastoral issues met in November, discussing urgent shared concerns about the human impact of several policy initiatives coming out of the current administration as well as the rise in Anti-Semitism in recent months. Also an excellent presentation on what we have learned after 500 years of Lutheran reformation was given.

This is just a brief snapshot of the ecumenical and interfaith work that is being done on a churchwide level. If you would like to be more engaged on the synodical level, please contact Rev. Mary M. Finklea (pastorfinklea@bellsouth.net)

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