LOUISVILLE — General Assembly Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick told ecumenical leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Sept. 28 that maintaining the church’s historic leadership in ecumenism “will require a major reorientation and recommitment” to the world ecumenical movement.
Speaking to the first major consultation on the PC(USA)’s ecumenical stance since its formation in 1983, Kirkpatrick said, “We need to recapture a passionate vision in the PC(USA) for the unity of the church, which now seems to recede into the background.”
Kirkpatrick was the first of six speakers to address the three-day gathering — sponsored by the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical Relations (GACER) — that had drawn approximately 65 participants from across the PC(USA) and the denomination’s ecumenical partners in the U.S. and abroad.
“It is impossible not to believe in the goodness of God when you travel across the world and realize in fresh ways that God is at work and is making a difference in people’s lives,” said Kirkpatrick, who also serves as the president of the Geneva-based World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
Despite chronic financial problems and tensions between and within many churches, Kirkpatrick said, “Tremendous signs are present of the life and vitality in the ecumenical movement today. There are struggles — funding, for example — but justice for God’s people in the world is strong.”
Acknowledging the Presbyterians’ leadership in ecumenism, Kirkpatrick said, “No church has been more active in the leadership of the ecumenical movement than the Presbyterian church.” But, he added, “The key question today is whether we will be remembered for our leadership in the ecumenical movement in the next 100 years as we have in the past 100,” as he referenced the upcoming 100th anniversary of the modern ecumenical movement in 2010.
The consultation began with worship, during which participants sang, “We Are One In the Spirit” and offered prayers of confession because “we find ourselves separated and distanced from one another and from God through our brokenness and the brokenness of our world.”
Katherine Owens, chair of the consultation’s planning team and a candidate for minister of the Word and Sacrament under care of the Presbytery of the Cascades, said a key expectation is that the consultation will devise a plan to “write an ecumenical stance to guide the policy and decision-making of the denomination” in its ecumenical relations for the next decade.
The work that comes out of this consultation will be reflected in a document that will go to the GACER early in 2008. The committee will review it and finalize plans to present the document to the 218th General Assembly next summer in San Jose, Calif. for adoption.
GACER chair Ed Chan, an elder of First Church in Santa Monica, Calif., told participants, “The GACER called for this consultation to provide vision and direction for the church’s engagement with the wider body of Christ,” adding, “I want something bold to come out of our time together because the church needs it.”
Linda Bryant Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Council, brought greetings to participants. “Every Sunday in worship we affirm the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church, but we don’t pause to reflect on the meaning of that,” said Valentine. “Thank you for helping us stop and reflect on what it means when we say, ‘To be Presbyterian is to be ecumenical.'”
Kirkpatrick expressed appreciation for the presence of participants from other denominations and ecumenical agencies because “we can’t be ecumenical all by ourselves.”
Kirkpatrick offered what he considers to be the top ten challenges for 21st-century ecumenism:
1. Avoid reversing the Lund Principle (an ecumenical principle that affirms Christian churches doing all things together except for those things that, because of conscience, compels them to act separately from each other);
2. Reconfiguring the ecumenical movement for a post-modern church and world;
3. Reconciling with people of other faiths;
4. Broadening ecumenical conversations to include those who have shied away from traditional ecumenical groupings;
5. Ecumenical formation for a new generation;
6. Claiming the ecumenical ethic of justice in the economy and the earth;
7. Renewal through spiritual ecumenism;
8. Using the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (2009) as a time of ecumenical healing;
9. Next steps in Presbyterian/Reformed union and communion; and
10. Meeting the ecumenical challenge within the PC(USA).
Speaking about interfaith relations, Kirkpatrick cited the example of Christians in Pakistan. “The movement toward an Islamic state in Pakistan is resulting in the literal killing of Christians,” he said. “Where we need to start as American Christians is to find a way where it’s not tit for tat — they kill us, so we kill them — but where we stand firm for Christians and their well-being in other parts of world.”