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  • Remembering Our Divided Past:Looking to Our Ecumenical Future
  • Thomas F. Best (bio)

The North American Academy of Ecumenists observed the decisive ecumenical event of 2016 and 2017—the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation—at its meeting September 23–25, 2016, at Emory University's Candler School of Theology (Rev. Dr. Jan Love, Dean) in Atlanta, Georgia.

We are proud to present the presentations from this meeting, held under the theme "'Commemorating' the Reformation: Churches Looking Together toward 2017—and Beyond." Through presentations and conversations, the Academy—perhaps the leading professional association of teachers and practitioners of ecumenism in North America—probed the ecumenical significance of the 500th anniversary of the European reformations. Together we asked: What have Christians learned from our long history of division and newfound ecumenical commitment? How can the churches use this anniversary to recommit themselves to the quest for a form of Christian unity that is viable, visible, and effective in witness and service to the world? In short, how can our divided past inspire us to move into a more united future?

These presentations, all from leaders in their respective fields and reflecting a wide range of confessional and theological perspectives, focus on the complex ecumenical task of both remembering and moving forward. The Rev. Dr. William Rusch reminded us that the work of "commemorating" is a work in progress. Msgr. John Radano spoke about the lessons learned from 1517 as tools for shaping the future. Dr. Catherine Clifford challenged us to claim our inheritance, whether Catholic or Protestant, as a resource for moving forward together. The Rev. Dr. Robert Welsh, surveying responses to the "commemoration" of the Reformation from many [End Page 215] Christian World Communions, reminded us of the significance of the Protestant Reformation for all Christians. Finally, Dr. Patrick Henry suggested that, in order to move into our ecumenical future, Christians must practice "creative remembering"—but also "prudent forgetting."

A panel of prominent Atlanta-area church leaders and ecumenical practitioners, gathered by Candler Professor Emeritus Dr. Don Saliers, spoke of the passion, promises, and challenges of their work in liturgy, musicianship, outreach, oversight, and ecumenical engagement. The meeting was undergirded by four prayer services under the theme "Re-Catholicizing, Re-Evangelizing, Re-Forming." These moved from repentance to reconciliation and from reconciliation to renewal for a more ecumenical future.

The 2017 NAAE conference will take place in the Boston, Massachusets, area, September 22–24, on the theme of worship: What have we learned from over 100 years of Christians' experiencing and learning from one another's liturgical life? How does worship express and inspire our ecumenical progress? Can we overcome the limits to common worship, not least at the Lord's Table? Once again our presenters will be leading experts in their respective fields. Further information is available at

Thomas F. Best

Thomas F. Best

Thomas F. Best (Christian Church [Disciples of Christ]), is President of the North American Academy of Ecumenists, 2016–17. An ordained pastor in the CC (DOC), he taught at Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary before being seconded by his church in 1984 to the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, from which he retired in 2007 as director. A member of the International Disciples of Christ/Roman Catholic Bilateral Dialogue, he holds a B.A. from Harvard, an M.A. from Oxford, and a Ph.D. (1974) in Christian Origins from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. He has written and edited articles for The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, and the New SCM Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship, and has served as editor and book review editor of The Ecumenical Review. He has delivered keynote speeches to the National Workshop on Christian Unity and the North American Academy of Ecumenists. He published Baptism Today: Understanding, Practice, Ecumenical Implications, Faith and Order Paper 207 (Liturgical Press and World Council of Churches, 2008). Forthcoming publications include the chapter on contemporary ecumenical history in The Oxford Handbook of Ecumenical Studies (Oxford University Press, 2017) and (co-editor) Growth in Agreement IV (World Council of Churches Publications, 2017).

Authors in Special NAAE...


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