Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 15, 2008
Dialogue melts 'ecumenical winter'
Canadian Prairies draw strength from a heritage of strong community
By RAMON GONZALEZ
Msgr. Don Bolen
The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity holds dialogues with worldwide communions or families of churches such as those established by the Anglican, Orthdox, Methodist, Reformed and Lutheran churches.
Over the past 40 to 50 years, most of these churches have been engaged in dialogue in two forms - multilateral dialogue jointly with each other and bilateral conversations between two partners trying to address the points of dispute that separate them.
"One of the biggest gains or signs of progress is they have come to actually recognize each other's Baptisms and in recognizing each other's Baptisms they have come to recognize each other as brothers and sisters in Christ," Bolen said.
"We see ourselves as being in partial communion, in real but imperfect communion and our dialogues seek to deepen that communion."
Bolen pointed to several steps taken in international ecumenical dialogue:
Bolen excitedly called this meeting "a tremendous ecumenical advance, one that really would have been unthinkable even 20 years ago."
He also noted that clergy from the Anglican, Catholic and Lutheran churches in Edmonton have studied the Anglican-Catholic document on Mary.
Bolen described Methodist-Catholic relations as "exceedingly positive" and he said that's perhaps due to the fact there is no historical rupture for these two churches to deal with.
"Methodism emerged from Anglicanism and while the Wesleys brought with them much of the Anglican critique of Catholic traditions and practices, it is significant for us still that there is no specific moment of rupture which needs to be healed."
Methodists, he noted, accepted without trepidation, the Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.
Anglicans, for their part, have argued that they never disagreed with either Catholics or Lutherans on justification.
"If your neighbour's farm burnt down, the neighbours (from every denomination) would gather together to rebuild it."
- Msgr. Don Bolen
A recent document on Church produced by Methodists and Catholics examines "where the Holy Spirit has been at work in the dialogue partner and to see what we can learn from each other," the priest noted.
"So in this document Methodists and Catholics look each other squarely in the eye to see where we can identify authentic elements of Church in the other."
Bolen said that despite all these advances, there are signs of disillusionment.
"Some speak of the present context as an ecumenical winter but I don't think that's the case."
He also mentioned projects in other countries, which - if modelled - could deepen the relationship between the international dialogues and regional ecumenical work.
One comes from Australia where 15 different churches signed a covenant recognizing each other's Baptisms. Various other steps in the covenant led ultimately to those churches that could share each other's Eucharist.
"It's quite an interesting model. Every church was involved to some degree in the covenant and bigger steps were taken where churches felt they were closer to each other."
Lutherans and Anglicans as well as Orthodox and Roman Catholics were able to agree to certain things that other churches couldn't, he said.
In Canberra, there is an initiative called receptive ecumenism. The basic idea behind this project is that all participants agree that the Holy Spirit works in other Christian communities.
"And we talk about reciprocal learning from each other, but the basic idea of this project is that each church should get on with the business of learning from other churches what it can. . . .
"Each church has a responsibility of identifying those areas where we see gifts of the Holy Spirit which could be received by ourselves."
Bolen said there is considerable ecumenical activity on the Canadian Prairies, including the work of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism in Saskatoon. In Calgary, Christian churches celebrate the Joint Declaration annually with local activities and lectures. In Winnipeg, Catholics and Mennonites are engaged in a local dialogue based on the international one.
Bolen said unity is always the work of the Holy Spirit and can never be forced.
"The Holy Spirit does desire the reconciliation of the disciples of Jesus and every action at whatever level which seeks reconciliation, which helps to heal disunity is a gift to be celebrated," he said. "Don't be afraid to seek outside the box to really find creative ways to address the areas in which we remain separate."
In a brief response to Bolen, Hutchinson agreed the Prairies have been a fertile ground for ecumenism in part because, unlike their European ancestors, Prairie people have been more concerned with survival than with historical divisions.
"At the time I was growing up on the farm in Alberta there was strong community; if your neighbour's farm burnt down, the neighbours (from every denomination) would gather together to rebuild it," he recalled.
The United Church scholar also agreed local churches should act more as participants than as "consumers of international wisdom" in the effort to achieve Christian unity.
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