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NCC ecumenical conference marks 50 years

Oberlin slide show by Kathleen Cameron

Oberlin, Ohio, July 20, 2007 Ė The things you are talking about these days are extremely important."  So said noted church historian and Lutheran pastor Dr. Martin Marty in his lecture that opened the 50th anniversary of the modern ecumenical movement in the U.S.

Nearly 300 participants from 80 Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, Anglican, Evangelical denominations and organizations have come to the campus of Oberlin College in this northeastern Ohio city.  It was here in 1957 that Roman Catholics first joined other U.S. Christians in ecumenical discussions called "Faith and Order." 

The Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) traces its beginning to that conference.  Bro. Jeffrey Gros, FSC, spent 25 years on the commission including a decade as its director.  "Faith and Order is very much needed," he told last night's opening session, "because we donít understand each other."

Dr. Marty addressed some of his comments directly to the 100 college students, seminarians and Ph.D. candidates in attendance.  He advised the new ecumenists to look at the context in which the people were living who pioneered the first Faith and Order conference. 

"They were astonishing," he said.  "Get a perspective of what they were dealing with at the time," Marty said, referring to the beginning of the civil rights movement.  He suggested the students "not look at what they didn't do" but "ask what kind of persons were they."

In the intervening 50 years he noted the increased role of women in the ecumenical movement and the growing number of constituents in the ecumenical dialogue.

"On Being Christian Together:  The Faith and Order Experience in the United States" is the theme of this conference.  Dr. Marty suggested "we are becoming Christian together" in his opening address.  He cited as a sign of hope the recent communion agreements with his own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and six other denominations with radically different traditions.  And the ELCA itself, Marty pointed out, is a coming together of different Lutheran churches.

Such words could not have disappointed Bridget Bursaw, 21, just beginning her senior year at the College of St. Benedict, St. Joseph, Minn. 

"The dialogue between the different churches is really important," said Bursaw, a Spanish major and minoring in theology.  "The church should not be divided."  She hopes to return to her Roman Catholic college campus with a "better sense of the diversity and the similarities of the churches."

Trevor Beach, 21, a senior majoring in Spanish and theology at St. John's University, Collegeville, Minn., thought "this would be a great opportunity to learn how ecumenism works."

Billy Honor, Jr., 24, a second year student at Johnson C. Smith Seminary at the Interdenominational Theological Center, Atlanta, hopes for "a better understanding of what God is doing in the different traditions gathered here."

Friday the students and all those attending will hear why Oberlin is so important to the ecumenical movement's history. 

"Visions of Christian Unity" is the title of panel discussion Friday that includes Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J.  The renowned Jesuit ecumenist was the first American-born Cardinal who is not a bishop.  That honor was given him in 2001 by Pope John Paul II.  Dulles is one month shy of his 89th birthday.

The Vatican representative, Msgr. John A. Radano, will participate Sunday in a panel discussion on "Issues Facing Ecumenism."  A recent statement endorsed by Pope Benedict XVI on other Christian communities is expected to be one of the topics.

Photos by Kathleen Cameron

NCC News contact:  Dan Webster, 212.870.2252,


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