|United Methodists, Catholics begin new dialogue|
Roman Catholic Bishop William Skylstad (left) and United Methodist
Bishop Timothy Whitaker, at St. Paul's College in Washington, are
co-chairpersons of the latest dialogue between the two churches.
A UMNS photo by the Rev. W. Douglas Mills.
By Linda Bloom*
Feb. 25, 2009 | NEW YORK (UMNS)
For more than 40 years, United Methodists and Roman Catholics in the
United States have conducted dialogues on topics ranging from public
education to Holy Communion.
The topic of the current dialogue, Round 7, combines the religious
and the secular: “The Eucharist and Care for God’s Creation.”
Roman Catholic Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., and United
Methodist Bishop Timothy Whitaker of Lakeland, Fla., are serving as
co-chairpersons for the new dialogue, which had its first meeting in
Washington in December.
The dialogue is facilitated by the United Methodist Commission on
Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns and the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops. “We have outstanding theologians on both sides,”
Whitaker said about the participants. “It’s a very impressive group.”
Environmental concerns have been a topic of conversation among
religious leaders around the world, according to Skylstad. “Stewardship
of our environment and ecumenism fit very well together as a project in
which we can work together in solidarity and common responsibility,” he
“Care for God’s creation has become a central theme in contemporary Christian theology,” the dialogue’s stated rationale said.
“As Methodists and Catholics, we look to our scriptures, our moral
teachings, and in a particular way, our worship as important sources
for theological reflection on the challenges of environmental
responsibility and ecclesial action to address the threats to the
The focus on worship is a new perspective, Whitaker pointed out. Few
people “are looking at Christian responsibility for the natural world
in light of Eucharistic worship,” he said. But there is a way to
consider the earth “as a sacramental means in which God encounters us,”
he added, which calls for an ethical response.
If the desire of Christians to improve the environment is not
grounded in such a world view, they are not likely to sustain their
stewardship activities or take them far enough. “What is really needed
is a transformation of people’s consciousness,” Whitaker said.
"Few people are looking at Christian responsibility for the natural world in light of Eucharistic worship."For
example, the church has misread the Bible if it believes “the Bible
gave us permission to exploit the world.” For the human race to have
dominion, he explained, “means to be good stewards” and to care for
world in same way that God does.
--United Methodist Bishop Timothy Whitaker
Even the language of the Eucharist has “cosmic dimensions,”
according to Whitaker. A vision of a God whose glory fills heaven and
earth “requires us to change our relationship to the world and a lot of
The Rev. James Massa, executive director of the Secretariat for
Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the Conference of Catholic
Bishops, noted that the “liturgical enactment of Jesus’ atoning
sacrifice on the cross requires the cultivation of soil – and by
extension, a planet – that is healthy enough to yield the wheat that
becomes the ‘one loaf’ consecrated at the Eucharist.”
The dialogues between United Methodists and Roman Catholics in the
United States first began in 1966 and each round of dialogue “has its
own reason for being,” according to the Rev. W. Douglas Mills, an
executive with the Commission on Christian Unity.
Skylstad originally had been part of Round 6, the dialogue that
concluded in 2005, but withdrew after being elected president of the
Catholic Conference of Bishops. “Each round has included a new group of
people,” Mills explained. “In this particular round, none of the United
Methodists have been in previous rounds.”
The committee will meet each June and December at St. Paul’s College
in Washington. United Methodist-related Wesley Theological Seminary
will serve as a host for those meetings. “On the average, rounds last
four to five years,” Mills said.
As a practical matter, Whitaker hopes a resource will emerge from
the Round 7 dialogue that Catholic parishes and United Methodist
congregations can read and share together.
In addition to Whitaker and Mills, United Methodist members of
Dialogue 7 are the Rev. Edgar Colon-Emeric, Duke University Divinity
School; the Rev. Karen Westerfield-Tucker, Boston School of Theology;
and Sondra Wheeler, the Rev. Kendall Soulen and the Rev. Bruce Birch,
all of Wesley Theological Seminary.
Besides Skylstad and Massa, Catholic participants are the Rev. Drew
Christiansen, associate editor of America Magazine; Msgr. Kevin Irwin,
School of Theology and Religious Studies at Catholic University of
America; the Rev. John Hart, Boston University School of Theology;
Connie Lasher, executive director of the John Paul II Institute for
Theology & Environmental Studies; and Angela Russell Christman,
director of the Catholic Studies program at Loyola College in
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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