Today is the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter, and the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. As I was reflecting on today’s lessons for our midweek service, I was struck by the irony of our praying for Christian Unity in the context of the gospel lesson that is used as the basis for papal supremacy. Indeed, the founders of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity believed that Christian unity could best be achieved by other Christians “returning” to Roman Catholicism, as they themselves ultimately did. Even though the Roman Catholics participate in this week-long event (and I’ve linked to Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks below), their official understanding of ecumenism is much the same.
I’ve said before that I’m not a big supporter of grand gestures or institutions that promote ecumenism. I understand the importance of the agreements made between Episcopalians and Lutherans, for example, and for the dialogue that takes place among the traditions, but I think ecumenism is best expressed and experienced on the local level, not in an effort at merging churches, necessarily, but in cooperation, fellowship, and growing understanding of the differences as well as similarities among the traditions.
From Beliefnet, background and commentary on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Pope Benedict’s remarks today.
News from the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland offers another perspective on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It was announced today that agreement was reached between the diocese and a Baltimore parish that had voted to become Roman Catholic. Here’s Bishop Sutton’s statement. Here’s the diocesan statement about the property settlement. I find noteworthy several items:
1) That with the help of a mediator, agreement about the property was made among the various parties involved. The diocese, rightly so, will receive a monetary settlement.
2) The congregation voted to make this move, acting democratically. As Bishop Sutton points out, that’s how we do things in the Episcopal Church. By expressing their franchise, these members also voted to give up their democratic rights as the Roman Catholic Church operates according to different rules.
3) Two paragraphs from Bishop Sutton’s letter stand out:
Episcopalians and Anglicans throughout the world, along with our Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers worldwide, see ourselves as fully part of Christ’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. We know our roots. Theologically and liturgically the Roman, Anglican and Orthodox traditions hold much more in common than there are differences. Our polities, or the way we govern ourselves, differ. We are all still seeking the Kingdom of God that Jesus told his disciples is here. Together we are members of the Body of Christ here on earth.
Our brothers and sisters at Mount Calvary have not “converted” to Roman Catholicism. They have chosen to walk with different friends in the same one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of which they have always been a part. Let us pray for them on their journey. Let us hope that their work in the future will continue to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to respect the dignity of every human being, and help build up the Kingdom of God here on earth.
It seems to me that whatever the irony of this statement being published today, what it shows is the way property disputes in the Episcopal Church ought to be settled, whether the departing congregations are becoming Roman Catholic, or are joining one of the disgruntled Anglican offshoots.