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Panelists share their hopes for Christian unity

| Thursday, March 28, 2019

In an effort to strengthen ecumenism, the unity of wide-spanning Christian churches and faith traditions, five church leaders gathered for conversation and communion in McKenna Hall on Thursday night.

Rev. Christopher Ferguson of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, Rev. Sarah Rowland Jones of St. David’s Anglican Cathedral, Rev. Martin Junge of the Lutheran World Federation, Cardinal Kurt Koch of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Rev. Tim Macquiban of the Methodist Ecumenical Office in Rome contributed to the conversation.

Five church leaders gathered in a panel discussion Thursday in McKenna Hall to find common ground between their faiths.

The discussion was led by Rev. Neil Arner, an assistant professor from the department of theology.

The panel, titled “From Conflict to Communion: The Future of Christians Together in the World,” provided a space for the five church leaders to find common ground. The discussion covered topics such as interpretation of scripture, theology and ethics. While the panelists recognized divisions among Christian denominations, they also agreed Churches must stand together to support one another going forward.

“Imagine, in the depth and the terrorizing expanse of violence and division in this world, that five communions would stand together … and not tell the story of the Protestant Reformation as a story mostly about division, but that the grace of God so profoundly freed us that our differences could be honored and robbed of all powers that divide us,” Ferguson said. “Our now urgent task is that the Church may be one so that the world may believe.”

Jones, the dean of St. David’s Anglican Cathedral in Wales, recognized Christians build stronger communities when they choose to work together rather than intensify divisions.

“It’s actually been so easy to sit together, to feel that we have been compelled by the Holy Spirit to say, we don’t just tick that box and say, ‘Well, that’s been done,’” Jones said. “We should never do separately what we can do together.”

Junge, the General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, articulated the respect different Christian traditions hold for each other.

“We recognize each other as people, as Churches, as communities that are fully committed to living up to the vocation of faithful living,” Junge said.

Despite differences between faith traditions, Jones believes Christian communities can still be united in matters of faith.

“One part of the body cannot say to the other, ‘I don’t need you,’” Jones said. “We’ve come to the point where we now see differences potentially being something that enriches and resources and strengthens and broadens and deepens our common life.”

While the panelists recognized differences can serve as instruments of communion, Ferguson also noted disagreement causes division among Christian traditions.

“The way that we read scripture divides us as much as it unites us,” Ferguson said. “Scripture, in itself, really has to be embraced through the centrality of living in and through the word of Jesus Christ,” he said.

The panel followed an ecumenical prayer service held in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Tuesday night. At the service, ministers from several Christian denominations co-presided in a space typically reserved for Catholic Mass.

The efforts toward ecumenism on campus included representatives from five major Christian traditions: Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed and Roman Catholic.

Fr. Gerry Olinger, the vice president for mission engagement and Church affairs at Notre Dame, said each of the five Christian traditions hold important theological teachings in common.

“We share in Jesus’ prayer for unity, and we seek to build a culture of encounter [that] leads to greater understanding, collaboration and love,” Olinger said in a March 11 press release. “Notre Dame strongly agrees with Pope Francis when he says that ecumenism is not optional.”

Pope Francis maintains the belief that ecumenism is necessary for building relationships with others and for individual formation.

“If we go in search of other people, other cultures, other ways of thinking, other religious, we come out of ourselves and begin that beautiful adventure that is called dialogue,” said in 2013. “Dialogue is very important for one’s maturity, because in relation with other people, relations with other culture, also in healthy relations with other religions, one grows.”

Following the meeting, the panelists agreed on several important Church teachings.

“I think ecumenism comes into reality — especially reality for me — when Christians work together,” Macquiban said.

Macquiban pointed to the collaboration between Catholics and protestants to receive and welcome Syrian refugees to Fiumicino Airport in Rome as an example of ecumenism.

“That is God’s work in action ecumenically, and it brings mission and unity together,” Maquiban said.

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