United Methodists join Christian Unity conference
Feb. 2, 2007
NOTE: Photos are available at http://umns.umc.org.
By Neill Caldwell*
WASHINGTON (UMNS) - While waiting for worship to begin at the National Cathedral, United Methodist Bishop Charlene Kammerer surprised Archbishop Vicken Aykazian of the Armenian Church in America by showing him the Armenian cross around her neck.
Kammerer, bishop of the Richmond, Va., Episcopal Area, also dazzled the archbishop with her knowledge of Armenian geography. She had visited Armenia a few years ago to get a first-hand experience of Project Agape, a partnership of United Methodists in the North Carolina Conference and the Western North Carolina Conference and the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Such informal ecumenical exchanges were commonplace during the National Workshop for Christian Unity, held Jan. 29-Feb. 1 in Rosslyn, Va., and the nation's capital.
The United Methodist Church was well represented at the gathering, which brought together hundreds of pastors and laypersons from many Protestant denominations, Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions.
In his sermon during the opening worship service, Aykazian noted that the loud and the powerful seem to get the most attention in today's world.
"We must give voice to the needs and suffering of those who have no voice," said Aykazian, president-elect of the National Council of Churches. "Our Lord and Savior has shown us the way, but there are too many distractions in this information-overloaded world that draw us away from Christ's teachings."
Participants in the four-day conference attended workshops, participated in a variety of worship styles and celebrated with a concert at the U.S. Senate office building.
Linda Bales, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, participated in a panel discussion on advocacy with representatives from the Episcopal and Evangelical Lutheran churches. She explained to non-Methodists that her agency bases its advocacy positions on the denomination's Social Principles, which outline the church's position on social and economic concerns and other human issues based on a "sound biblical and theological foundation."
"We're not lobbyists," said Bales, "but we do mobilize people to be a prophetic voice. We play the United Methodist card whenever we can, reminding politicians that there are 8 million United Methodists in the U.S. Of course, not all agree with every position we take. Our General Secretary, Jim Winkler, regularly speaks out against the war in Iraq and gets numerous pieces of hate mail because of that."
The Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, said such ecumenical gatherings are a great opportunity to network with Christians from other faith traditions.
"The National Workshop on Christian Unity is unique because it brings together Catholics, Episcopalians and other communions around issues we don't always get an opportunity to talk about," he said. "It gives United Methodists exposure to what issues are important to the other faith communities."
Pickens cited ecumenical concerns such as poverty, evangelism, global health issues and leadership training. "I'd include 'how to live in an interfaith world,' because these are not just United Methodist issues," he said. "We are a really key point in the lives of our churches, and this kind of discussion helps provide vision and hope as to how we go forward in ministry."
Bishop Ted Schneider, of the Metropolitan Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, presented the ecumenical idea in physical terms: "Like the human body - where if one part is not working 'up to code' then the entire body suffers - we must work together smoothly or the entire church body will suffer. We have to catch the vision of wholeness for Christ's church."
As Aykazian reminded participants, Scripture does not say "blessed are the peaceful, but 'blessed are the peacemakers.' Our faith should not be passive, but instead a call to action to respond to a suffering world."
*Caldwell is the editor of The Virginia United Methodist Advocate magazine.
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