The Rich Potential of Local Level Ecumenism
In the Fall 2008 issue of KOINONIA, Fr. Tom Ryan’s article “The Role of the Personal in Christian Unity Efforts” ended with this remark: “Let us then restate the obvious: Christ’s prayer for unity among his followers can only advance through relationships.”
Because relationships seem so normal and natural, we sometimes overlook the meaningfulness behind what we are doing. In light of Fr. Tom’s article, I reflected on some of my own ecumenical relationships. As I cite various examples, I encourage the reader to think of the various ways you and other Christians relate to one another.
Since 1990 I have been a member of the Spirituality Network of Central Ohio, an ecumenical group of clergy, religious, and lay members who are involved in providing spiritual direction, giving retreats, and offering a variety of other spiritual opportunities. We meet with one another many times throughout the year, both formally and informally.
I edit a Lenten Journal each year for the Network, asking 47 Catholics and Protestants in Central Ohio to write their reflections on the scriptures of the day, leaving room on the page for the reader’s own journaling. Those who prepare the Journal and those who use it find the reflections edifying and inspiring. How delightful it is to reflect on what a person from another Christian community has shared. Each year we sell 1,800 Journals and donate (or “tithe”) another 200 to those in prison.
Over the years I have been a spiritual director for several Episcopal priests, a Baptist missionary, a retired Christian Reformed minister, and an Intervarsity lay campus leader. The time spent together is enlightening and inspiring for each of us.
Each year at the Newman Center we have a Busy Person’s Retreat. In the spring of 2008, ten of the retreat directors were Protestants, all second-year students in the Spirituality Network’s Wellstreams training program for spiritual directors. The directors and the 20 Catholic retreatants expressed gratitude for the ecumenical experience. Some of the people have continued to meet for on-going spiritual direction.
In Columbus the Cursillo movement is known as “Cum Christo” to signify that the retreat weekend is ecumenical, with presenters and participants from various Christian denominations coming together to share our common faith in Christ. I have been a spiritual director for both women’s and men’s retreats. In February 2009 I will be leading the annual day of recollection for Cum Christo, together with a Catholic lay woman and a male Protestant minister. It’s a wonderful experience to rest comfortably on our common Christian foundation and at the same time learn from one another’s different approaches and emphases.
Expanding from ecumenical to interfaith relations, I am a member of Faith Communities Uniting for Peace, a group of people from over 20 faith traditions who came together to work and pray for peace when the war in Iraq began. Since then we have had prayer vigils in various Protestant churches and at the Ohio Statehouse on the anniversary of the start of the war. Interestingly, I have been asked each time to be the presider at these services because as a Catholic I am more familiar with appropriate rituals for a prayer service.
On one occasion, I went with other members of Faith Communities United for Peace to a local mosque for the Friday noon service. Our purpose was to show our solidarity with the Muslim community after one of the fundamentalist churches organized a workshop specifically to proselytize Muslims.
The day after the November 2008 elections, the Newman Center welcomed two Muslim scholars to talk about the teaching of Islam on love and peace. Before the talks, I hosted a potluck luncheon, with many of the refreshments and decorations provided by a retired Methodist minister and his wife and a member of the Sikh faith who is a professor at The Ohio State University. There was an abundance of delicious food for the forty people who came. We invited the Muslim scholars as a way to counteract the bigotry of the DVD "Obsession" that had been printed as an advertisement in our local newspaper and had also been mailed to many homes in the area. The following E-mail from a Newman Center community member and employee of the Diocesan Communication Office sums up the beauty of that day:
“I loved the Imam's talk, his singing the Koran, and his stories, especially the one about the eagle and the crow. And I had a great conversation at my table - four Muslim men, a Muslim woman, a Lutheran pastor and me, a Catholic woman. But the most moving thing I saw was this: after the meeting, while I was helping clear away the dishes and leftovers, I looked into one of the small classrooms off the main hall, and there were several men in there, on their knees, praying their afternoon prayers. I nearly cried watching this scene in a Catholic church building, thinking to myself, this is how life should be, all living in peace, all respecting one another's creeds, feeling safe wherever we are to worship God in our personal ways.”
Fr. Vincent “Vinny” McKiernan, CSP, 78, previously taught in seminary and was Paulist novice master prior to becoming director of the Paulist Center in Boston. After leading retreats for 2 years, he joined the campus ministry staff of the Newman Center at The Ohio State University in Columbus where he has served since 1990. He is the author of Vin-a-mins, The Wit and Wisdom of Fr. Vinny McKiernan, C.S.P., a desktop or kitchen counter “Thought for the Day” available online