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  • Living Unity: North American Academy of Ecumenists Annual Conference
    September 27–30, 2018, Arlington, Virginia
  • William P. McDonald

“Living Unity: Ecumenical Shared Ministries” was the theme of the North American Academy of Ecumenists’ 2018 annual conference, exploring forms of ecumenical relationships at the local level in Canada and the United States. Five speakers and a panel of representatives from Ecumenical Shared Ministries (ESM’s) informed the conversation among some three dozen participants gathered for the weekend.

Fr. Tom Ryan, C.S.P., of the Paulist Office for Ecumenical and Inter-faith Relations spoke Friday evening on “What Can Come from Living and Studying Together,” the text of which appears in this issue. Ryan’s book of the same title concretizes ecumenism for parishioners from across the ecclesial spectrum who are united in their desire to see greater unity in their local contexts. Ryan’s narration of how his own ecumenical formation shaped his journey to the priesthood oriented weekend discussions toward the importance of the autobiographical—personal or congregational—in thinking about local ecumenism.

Saturday morning’s papers were offered by Mitzi Budde and Sandra Beardsall. Budde, Professor and Librarian at Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, VA, presented on “How Great a Cloud of Witnesses: The Life Cycle of Ecumenical Shared Parishes,” continued the theme of story, this time at the congregational level. She explored how ecumenical congregations get started, grow and develop, understand their mission in their communities, and even close. Her study was shaped by many hours of ethnographical work in interviews with laity and clergy from congregations combining two or more traditions under one roof. Beardsall, Professor of [End Page 149] Church History and Ecumenics at St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon, spoke on “ ‘The Unity Inherent in our Faith’: Worship and Belonging in Multi-Denominational Congregations.” Also based on her research and interviews in ESM’s, Beardsall focused on their liturgical practices and methods of ordering membership (confirmation practices, singleor dual-rostering of members, etc.). Her interviews with youth who reported their dilemmas around maintaining a clear denominational identity vs. a sense of belonging to all traditions represented in their parishes were poignant.

More stories of local ecumenism were shared in the afternoon panel discussion. Panelists included members and clergy from Holy Apostles Roman Catholic-Episcopal Church, Virginia Beach, VA; First Federated Church, North Jackson, OH (DOC-PCUSA-UCC); and Church of the Nativity-Holy Comforter, Baltimore, MD (TEC-ELCA). Some participants had been involved with their congregations from their beginnings and could relate for the audience how their sense of the unique mission of these churches had evolved over time. Questions about judicatory relations, worship practices, education, and futures rounded out the dialogue.

In the evening, Dr. Gerard Mannion spoke on “Living Unity in the Service of Moral Discernment: Ethics, Ecclesiology, and the Art of Magisterium.” Mannion, a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Theology at Georgetown University, addressed the character and practice of the magisterium in Catholic ecclesiology in particular and in ecumenical context in general. A final paper Sunday morning by William McDonald, Professor of Religion at Tennessee Wesleyan University, offered theological reflections on the shared space that ESM’s occupy together in local churches as a call to koinonia. Budde, Beardsall, and McDonald were together presenting the research from their team-authored book, Daring to Share: Multi-Denominational Congregations in the U.S. and Canada.

The 2019 NAAE Annual Conference will assemble at Sign of the Theotokos Orthodox Church in Montreal, September 27–29, 2019, to consider “Toward a new Détente: Ecumenical Outreach and Interfaith Dialogue in an Age of Uncertainty.” [End Page 150]

William P. McDonald
NAAE President, 2017–19


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