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United Methodists help honor ecumenical movement

Mark Calhoun, a student at St. Paul’s School of Theology, was among United Methodists marking the 50th anniversary of the modern ecumenical movement at the July celebration at Oberlin College in Ohio. A UMNS photo courtesy of Mark Calhoun.

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

Aug. 1, 2007

Ann Riggs (second from right) of the National Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Commission and the Rev. Bob Edgar (right), the NCC’s outgoing chief executive, greet participants. A UMNS photo by Kathleen Cameron.

When Mark Calhoun decided to change careers and pursue the ministry, he had his first major ecumenical experience.

Needing to complete a bachelor’s degree, the Wichita, Kan., resident attended a Mennonite college. He found himself the only United Methodist in a small group of students who were Pentecostal, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian and Mennonite. The professors also represented a variety of denominations.

Recently, Calhoun learned more about the roots of the modern U.S. ecumenical movement when he and other United Methodists attended a conference at Oberlin College in Ohio marking the 50th anniversary of discussions between Roman Catholics and other Christians called "Faith and Order."

A lecture by the Rev. Martin Marty, noted church historian and Lutheran pastor, opened the July 19-23 event, which was organized by the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches.

The theme was "On Being Christian Together: the Faith and Order Experience in the United States." Discussions ranged from historical topics, such as the significance of Oberlin to the ecumenical movement, to "hot topics," such as interpretation of the recent Vatican statement declaring "ecclesial communities" outside the Catholic Church to be "defective."

Nearly 300 participants from 80 Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, Anglican and evangelical denominations and organizations attended, including 100 college students, seminarians and doctoral candidates.

Pioneers of the movement

Addressing those new ecumenists, Marty suggested they look at the "astonishing" pioneers of the movement and the "kind of persons" they were, rather than what these pioneers didn’t accomplish.

For Calhoun, the invitation for students "to be present and find ourselves starting to form the future of the ecumenical movement" was extremely significant. "There was an openness to invite folks … into this growing ecumenical movement," he said.

The Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, said the Oberlin meeting was an opportunity for all church leaders to think about how to "remain relevant in a constantly changing ecumenical environment.

"Faith and Order is challenged inasmuch as the voices and scholarship of people of color, women and those from developing nations must become standard fixtures if the movement is to be inclusive and harness integrity," he said.

The Rev. Martin Marty, a noted church historian and Lutheran pastor, gives the opening lecture.

The Rev. W. Douglas Mills, an executive with the Commission on Christian Unity, said the Faith and Order movement is part of the overall ecumenical story. He participated in a panel discussion on "Visions of Christian Unity" during the event.

"Faith and Order was simply the scholarship, the ecumenical thinking that would form the support for the ecumenical movement," Mills said.

The institutional embodiment of the Faith and Order movement included not only the NCC commission, but also the ecumenical offices and agencies developed by individual denominations, according to Mills.

While still pursuing the goals set at Oberlin I in 1957, "we have come to realize that we have to hear more voices than we heard in '57," he said, adding the voices include those of the Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Holiness and Orthodox traditions.

The next generation

It was the desire to expand the voices, as well as encouraging "the next generation to continue pushing this field of scholarship," that led to student involvement in the Oberlin event, Mills said.

Calhoun, 39, is a former vice president of a mechanical contracting company who currently is working on a Master of Divinity degree at St. Paul’s School of Theology in Kansas City. He also is a probationary elder in the Kansas West Conference and has been on staff at East Heights United Methodist Church in Wichita since 2003.

He said it was energizing to be in the midst of theological dialogue based on recent thinking and writing and to "be a part of the cutting-edge, present-day engagement of ecumenism."

Hearing the stories of individuals gathered at Oberlin, "some who had a deep passion for ecumenism, some who were being exposed to it for the first time," allowed Calhoun to live "into the ecumenical story as a whole," he added.

For 23-year-old Jordan Shaw, a United Methodist student at Bangor Theological Seminary pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Christian ethics, being at Oberlin made him realize how his own experience was shaped by what began there 50 years ago.

While dialogue between Catholics and Protestants was uncommon in 1957, it was a fact of life later as he grew up in New England. In many small towns of the region, he explained, the Catholic Church "is usually the place where we start any ecumenical work."

United Methodists in attendance include the Rev. W. Douglas Mills, Kirsten Oh, Mary Holland and Kenneth Loyer. A UMNS photo courtesy of Mary Holland.

Shaw, from Savattus, Maine, said he "would like to stay involved with the ecumenical movement on a much broader scale," especially in work on policy changes for poverty, health care and other justice issues.

Mary Holland’s own spiritual journey embodies the ecumenical vision. She found herself so open to the viewpoints of other Christians that she switched from the Anabaptist to United Methodists faiths while attending Palmer Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, of which she is a recent graduate.

She said she was impressed with the fortitude of the ecumenical movement and the leaders she met at Oberlin and liked the idea that "to be who you are and to allow others to be who they are was reinforced at the conference." Another significant emphasis, she said, "was the importance of bringing the ecumenical message back to our local churches."

Holland, 49, has embarked on the ministry as a second career, although she has to wait one more year to be on the denominational ordination track. In the meantime, she remains active at Camp Hill United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania and is a hospital chaplain.

Calling the Faith and Order Commission one of the NCC’s "most significant" groups, Pickens acknowledged the need to secure its future. "It is clear to me that all of our communions will have to do more work to assure that our young scholars are introduced to the work of Faith and Order and given an opportunity to share from their experiences and perspectives," he said.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


The Rev. W. Douglas Mills: "The event was a review and evaluation of Oberlin …"

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