Ecumenism in the Pews (Blog by Chip Hardwick)

MARCH 20, 2013

Ecumenism in the Pews

Faith and Order Commission in San Juan, Puerto Rico


Last week I attended the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches.  This commission brings together ecumenical scholars (both professors and pastors) from approximately twenty Christian denominations to engage in multilateral discussions of theological issues around a common table.  While the plurality of attendees are from Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, and Episcopalian backgrounds, participants also come from as broad a range as Christian Scientists, Roman Catholics, and Churches of Christ.  We met in Old San Juan in a meeting space on the Plaza de Armas (pictured at left).

The National Council of Churches, like many of the denominations which support it, has found that its resources are shrinking at a fairly rapid pace, requiring a reshaping of the organization’s mission.  Part of the discussion at this meeting was the future of the Faith and Order work, as well as other aspects of the Council’s ministries.

Because the new strategy is still evolving, it is difficult to forecast how the new incarnation of the NCC or of Faith and Order will look.  My hope, however, is that it will increasingly drive ecumenism into the pews.  The conversations we have at the meetings are fascinating—they remind me of my Ph.D. seminars.  It is very enriching to be there, and I’m certain that the other PC(USA) participants find them extremely thought-provoking as well.

However, the challenge remains for us to make sure that the conversations and developments which occur at Faith and Order actually impact the denomination as a whole.  My sub-group has been studying unity and division, and I have gained lots of insights about how different Christian traditions deal with controversies, and what holds them together/drives them apart.

Given the current climate in the PC(USA), it’s a conversation worth broadening out to include many more of our churches and leaders.  Other subgroups have equally interesting dialogues about reducing violence and about ecumenism among marginalized communities.  Your commissioners to Faith and Order have the opportunity to work more closely together to influence Presbyterians in the pews much more effectively.   This will dovetail nicely with the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s desire to inspire, equip, and connect Presbyterians to do ministry, rather than to do ministry on behalf of the church.

Please join me in praying that the new NCC and Faith and Order structures will enable this move toward congregational ministry to happen more easily.