Workshop on Christian Unity celebrates spirit of ecumenism

May 16, 2003

The 2003 National Workshop on Christian Unity drew over 400 participants to its May 10-13 meeting in Savannah, Georgia, where they celebrated the spirit of ecumenism--and some progress on the road to unity. The meeting also sought to 'widen the table' by including denominations that haven't participated in the movement over the years.

Plenary sessions, for example, focused on the classical Pentecostal traditions and the ways in which their growth around the world has impacted and influenced the ecumenical movement. Pentecostals in the U.S. have moved through a period when they did not participate in ecumenical discussions into a new period where their influence has increased on the ecumenical scene. The main question for Pentecostals now, according to some participants, is whether the ecumenical movement is really serious about building a new ecumenical table with them as partners in the building process or merely 'adding leaves to the existing table.'

In the opening plenary address, Dr. Robert Franklin of Emory University in Atlanta spoke of the power of the Holy Spirit to break apart neatly constructed vessels of parochialism and of the need for the church to have a broom ready to sweep up those shattered fragments, study them, and seek to shape them into new and unexpected arrangements of great beauty and utility. 'Tradition is the living faith of the dead while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living,' he said. He challenged participants to become, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., a creative core of non-conformists seeking dialogue and cooperation among churches and the great religions of the world.

Dr. Anthea Butler emphasized local partnerships and dialogue between Pentecostals and mainline churches in addition to the national and international ones. The Rev. Carmelo Alvarez traced the history of Pentecostal and charismatic renewal n the churches of Latin America, pointing out that Roman Catholic and historic Protestant churches often have a charismatic flavor and dimension that makes cooperation easier and more fruitful.

Workshops and seminars provided an overview of the various ecumenical dialogues as well as a focus on interfaith listening, racism, grassroots ecumenism, and the office of deacon as an ecumenical opportunity. One of the special Eucharists was celebrated by Lutherans and Episcopalians with Bishop Henry Louttit of Georgia presiding and Bishop Ronald Warren of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America preaching on the mission challenges facing the two churches today as 'full communion' partners.

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