WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Franciscan Sr. Lorelei Fuchs urged Christians to stay at the unity table.
EDMONTON - Ecumenical dialogue is not about sitting around a table, splitting theological hairs and talking until everyone is in agreement.
That is not what ecumenical dialogue is all about, says Sister Lorelei Fuchs.
Fuchs said ecumenical dialogue is a dialogue of love, mutually informing one another and forming one another, seeing Christ in the other person, regardless of the Church he or she attends.
"These are hard ecumenical times. But I am convinced that the time to continue doing something is when other people stop doing it. Unity is not a Christian hobby; it is really a mandate of Christ," said Fuchs.
That mandate can be found in Jesus' priestly prayer in John 17, she said.
As a Franciscan Sister of the Atonement, her order epitomizes ecumenism. Its founder, Rev. Lewis Wattson, was Episcopalian, and he was dedicated to promoting Christian unity.
Fuchs hosted Ecumenical Days in Edmonton March 26-29. She is a noted ecumenist and research assistant for the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States. She authored Koinonia and the Quest for an Ecumenical Ecclesiology.
Julien Hammond, the archdiocesan ecumenical officer, invited her to present a series of lectures.
"There has been some ecumenical activity in the area and in Edmonton, but in terms of a structure like this, apparently this is a first," said Fuchs.
About 25 guests attended ecumenical formation day March 26 at the Franciscan Centre. Her talk focused on the historical context, themes and concepts of ecumenism. She mentioned the disunity in the early Church and many of the eventual offshoots of Christianity, even prior to Martin Luther.
Fuchs said that acknowledging Church history is important, and that clashes between denominations from centuries ago should be neither ignored nor denied.
"The Church is always reforming. The day it ceases to reform, it probably ceases to exist," she said.
A central message was that regardless of the Church, all Christians are followers of Christ and have the same universal call to holiness. This commonality is what makes dialogue among churches imperative.
"It is good news when brethren dwell together in unity, and that's why we're here in the ecumenical movement."
Fuchs made the best use of her few days in Edmonton, holding a series of ecumenism-based talks at Newman Theological College, All Saints Anglican Cathedral, Covenant Christ Reformed Church and Trinity Lutheran Church.
"After 40 years of ecumenical relations, I want to share what the findings are and what progress has been made," she said.
"There has been twofold criticism that so many people have left ecumenical work and they go to do inter-religious, interfaith work or that ecumenism is going nowhere, and nothing is happening."
She countered those criticisms by explaining some of the advancements and forward strides being made in ecumenism.
"We have certainly increased – and dialogue has helped us increase – in terms of collaborative works, action projects that the churches are involved in. Look at the ecumenical presence in Haiti after the earthquake, as an example. Or look at Japan where Christian bodies are working together," said Fuchs.
The last century, starting in Edinburgh in 1910, was a time of excitement and high energy in ecumenical work, mostly Protestant-driven. Following the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church got involved, promising an irreversible commitment to Christian unity.
"By the late 1980s, things started getting tough," said Fuchs.
"Then came the struggle between believing and belonging, Church not appealing to people in the same way, the phenomenon of post-denominational, non-denominational, trans-denominational Christians and new religious movements."
The trend was also towards more amorphous Christians, people claiming to be Christian but not belonging to a specific church. This changed the ecumenical movement because Christian unity was not only based on Christians getting together, but also on institutions getting together. Christians without institutions was a challenge to the Christian unity movement.
"We need an ecumenical examination of conscience, not just in terms of right or wrong, but consciousness of who we are as members of the one Church of Jesus Christ but still as churches that remain divided," she said.
In terms of theology, the various churches have advanced ecumenically. The current challenges result from the setbacks certain churches have had within their own denominations, their internal crises.
"Churches are not dividing from one another as much as churches intra are dividing. The Lutherans in the United States and Anglicans are suffering divisions for many reasons," she said.
"If a division pains one part of the Christian body, it should pain all of us. That's all the more reason to stay at the table than to walk away."