14 June 2016

Thinking about Ecumenism

In the past couple of weeks, I've been thinking a lot about Ecumenism.  From the Greek, oikoumene (sorry - I can't figure out how to get Greek letters on Blogger), meaning the whole inhabited world.  (I struggled through New Testament Greek this year - I am determined to bring it up whenever possible!) Ecumenism today generally refers to the the whole body of Christ - all of the churches together, across denominational boundaries - and that which unites them and allows them to work together.

When I was applying to seminary two years ago, my primary consideration when I was choosing which school I wanted to attend was that I wanted an ecumenical school.  Within my denomination (the United Church of Canada), I had five schools to choose from - two are ecumenical and three are denomination-specific.  The school that I attend (the Atlantic School of Theology) was founded by the United Church of Canada, the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Roman Catholic Church and is open to students of any denomination (or no denomination).  I've had classes with Lutheran students, Baptist students, Metropolitan Community Church students, Pentecostal students.

My reason for choosing an ecumenical school was that I feel that discussion is enriched by bringing multiple perspectives to the table.  We can learn from each others' perspectives.  All of the mission projects that I have been a part of, and most of the bible studies that I have participated in have been ecumenical - this is the milieu that I am most comfortable in.

Here at school, while we do have denomination specific classes (I have now completed my four UCCan requirements - Worship, Doctrine, History, and Polity& Ethics) as well as denominational Formation every Wednesday afternoon for all three years, most of our classes are ecumenical.  And it has lived up to my expectations.  Not only have I learned from the other denominations about what they believe, but it has also strengthened my commitment to my own denomination.

One thing that I wasn't expecting - call it the added bonus - is learning about some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of the different denominations.  In our Field Education Class, we spend time talking about our weeks at our placements - in first year, our placements included United Churches, Anglican Churches, a Baptist Church and a Roman Catholic church; in second year we were a mix of United and Anglican churches.  This is where we could hear about a lot of the practical and logistical issues at the different churches we were placed at.  "So that's what it's called!"  "That's why Anglicans do it that way!"

I've also had the opportunity to participate in different experiences outside of my own denomination.  In the past couple of weeks, I've attended an Anglican eucharist in a small rural church (with no electricity or running water); United Church worship services; and the first profession of her vows of one of my friends who is the newest nun in the Society of the Sacred Heart.  An interesting observation - the homily at Uche's profession given by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of the Diocese of Halifax and Yarmouth, and the sermon that I heard two days later given by a United Church minister had the same core message - all about drawing closer to the heart of Jesus.

If you had asked me about ecumenism ten years ago (or even 3 years ago), I probably would have presented a vision of a world without denominational barriers - one universal church of Christ.  This vision has changed.  I now envision ecumenism like a jigsaw puzzle.  Each denomination around the world is one piece of the puzzle (and to take it a step further, each congregation within a denomination is like a sub-piece coming together to make that denomination's piece), and the puzzle pieces fit together to form the whole.  The big picture (i.e. God's vision for the church) can only be seen when all of the puzzle pieces come together.  Each denomination is needed for the whole.  Some pieces are closer together, some are on opposite corners.  Each piece of the puzzle has a role to play, and when we can talk to each other, communicate deeply, we can figure out how we can fit together.  Rather than equating ecumenism with homogeneity, I now see it as more of a beautiful mosaic.

(Selfie with the newest Sister in the Society of the Sacred Heart - Halifax)