I was invited for the first time to participate in the Ecumenical Officers’ Retreat this year in June. It always feels good to be included, but I was especially looking forward to some quality time with others who represent their communions (church headquarters) in ecumenical activities around the US. Since I was new, I expected to learn quite a bit. But I wasn’t prepared for depth of the disarming candor, sincere affection (including welcome for me), and intelligent discussion that respected differences.
There were nine of us, each one from a different Christian community, yet drawn together to respond to the call of Christ to live in unity. I love the way the meeting began: we took the time to really listen to each other’s stories. Each one explained the way their jobs are organized and what their hopes would be for our time together.
That’s the way to begin a deep and serious conversation. Taking the time to listen means taking the time to care for one another. Our diversity was quite obvious, as there were no two people from the same denomination. But the humility, love of Christ, generous spirit, and wisdom from experience made it clear that we were able to speak in a ‘safe place.’ That is, we could trust each other in confidence.
The most important thing Iearned from the retreat was how to love other Christians who don’t hold my theological views. Yes, we did talk about some technical means by which ecumenical dialogue was working. Yes, we did talk about big picture concepts of Christianity that is in evolutionary change right now. And yes, we did talk about the various kinds of ecumenical activities going on. But it was the love that spoke to me.
Listening to the more liberal and more conservative ecumenical officers discussing the growing impact of non-European Christianity on American Christianity was a good model for me to pay attention to. They listened carefully to each other’s views, but they clarified their own meaning that differentiated the two, as well. I expect everyone felt they have a lot at stake in bringing the meaning of their denominational gifts to the table, but Love prepared that table. Whether they represented large communions (like Roman Catholics) or small ones (like Northern Moravian), older ones (like Episcopalian) or newer ones (like UCC), each idea was important, and I truly treasure them.