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Celebrating 50 Years of Faith and Order
Washington, January 6, 2006 – The Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches USA will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary July 19-23, 2007, by returning to Oberlin, Ohio, for a conference entitled, “On Being Christian Together: The Faith and Order Experience in the United States.”
Oberlin is a site of deep significance for the Faith and Order Commission of the NCC, which traces its beginning to a 1957 Oberlin conference on the theme “The Nature of the Unity We Seek.”
In the nineteenth century, many now estranged streams of U.S. Protestantism lived together in a vibrant faith community at Oberlin. Issues of concern in the life and theology of 19th century Oberlin included racial justice, women’s roles, and peace – all issues that became central for the ecumenical movement in the 20th century.
The 50th anniversary celebration will consider where Faith and Order has been, its current gifts, and its future life. As NCC President Elect, Bishop Vicken Aykazian of the Armenian Church of America put it, “We are looking forward with great interest to the realization of this important conference. It is important not only for our past, but will also be a mirror for the future of the church in the United States.”
Over a four day period, participants including Faith and Order Commissioners, theologians and church leaders from an even broader range of communions, and selected graduate and seminary students, will be invited to engage the theme by responding to papers from senior ecumenists. The theological differences that continue to divide communions and traditions will be approached through the categories of “resonance,” “dissonance,” and “non-sonance” created by Rev. John T. Ford, CSC for the Commission’s new book Ancient Faith and American-Born Churches, edited by Ted A. Campbell, Ann K. Riggs and Gilbert W. Stafford (Paulist Press, 2006). These categories have made it possible for churches with very different self-understandings, histories and theologies to engage one another productively in a dialogue of mutual discovery and discussion.
Bishop Christopher Epting, the Episcopal Bishop for Ecumenical Relations said, “The Episcopal Church has always encouraged Faith and Order to be more balanced within both the World Council and National Council so it’s very exciting to us that this gathering is taking place.”
The meeting will both celebrate the achievements of Faith and Order in the United States and explore the ecumenical significance of Oberlin as a place, combining repentance for continuing disunity with joyful worship in response to the unity the churches already experience in Jesus Christ. It will highlight those who have fostered a capacity for serious theological and ecclesiological dialogue in the midst of the culture wars through new methods and respectful conversation. It will seek to produce the kind of holistic approach embodied by Christian Methodist Episcopal Bishop Thomas L. Hoyt, Jr. who made important contributions for many years as a Faith and Order Commissioner and during his recent term as NCCPresident worked to ensure that issues of unity were never separated from ethical issues such as poverty and racism.
Dr. Donald W. Dayton, a commissioner from the Wesleyan Theological Society, noted, “At a world level, Faith and Order discussions have tended to be basically Eurocentric and presuppose the structures of Europe. The simple division into mainline Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox and the way the questions are asked cannot function in North America. Right now, the models of American-born churches are at least as influential as those of European churches.” For this reason, one of the key achievements of the last fifty years has been the integration of Holiness, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Historic Black, and Restorationist churches into ecumenical dialogue previously shaped by concerns originating in European churches.
The celebration of these developments will point participants toward the future as we engage both experienced and new voices in the conversation. As Roman Catholic commissioner, Rev. Ernest Falardeau, SSS put it, “The first Oberlin conference brought together some of the outstanding ecumenical pioneers of the day and set a direction for the future. Many churches were represented at that conference, but some were not. The gathering in 2007 promises to bring together some of those silent voices. Catholics, in particular, will be pleased to have a number of official delegates in place of the two ‘observers’ present in 1957.”
Dr. R. Keelan Downton, the Faith and Order Postdoctoral Fellow, added, “This is a real opportunity to move beyond the ecumenical-evangelical divide to express the ancient-future reality of the Church in a way that is both generous and orthodox.”
The work of preparation for the conference is being carried out by task-specific committees which have been working over the last several months. They have adopted five operating principles that describe the purpose of the conference. 1) to share the insights of Faith and Order methods and products; 2) to practice what we have learned in the conference itself; 3) to produce preparatory documents of theological depth with accompanying study guides, making it possible for students and others new to the Faith and Order movement to be well prepared for participation in the event; 4) to produce conference documents of theological substance which articulate what we have done and can be shared outside the context of the conference; and 5) to offer guidance to the next generation(s) of Faith and Order.
As the Commission begins to engage in this process of reflection and projection, it calls on US Christians to pray for them and their work together.
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