People of Paradox
Hamilton, Karen A., Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Sisters and brothers in Christ, it is an honor and a privilege to speak to you under the rubric of a council of churches, as General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches. I cannot officially welcome you to Montreal, since the Canadian Council of Churches is based in Toronto, but it is always a pleasure to welcome American colleagues to Canada as a reminder to us all that there is much life and energy, as well as ecumenism north of the 49th parallel!
The place to begin my presentation on the theme of "Mission: Ecumenism in the Midst of Pluralism" is to say that it is a good thing we Christians are people of paradox, living in and with the truth that for us Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully divine. The reality of ecumenism in the world in this time and place is very much one of paradox, so much of what I have to say will reflect that, whether I make those connections overtly or leave them to your prayerful reflection.
We begin with a story from one of the most famous of all Canadian authors, Lucy Maud Montgomery, a story from one of the later books in her worldfamous series based on the character of Anne of Green Gables. I underline the fact that Montgomery is Canadian for the sake of our American sisters and brothers. As Canadians we are very aware of all that happens in the United States, and we think it would be great if Americans knew as much about us as we do about them.
The Anne of Green Gables books depict life in Prince Edward Island around the turn of and the early years of the twentieth century, years very close, in fact, to 1910. The story in question points out how far we have come in ecumenism. It is told in a very matter-of-fact way, making its point dramatically by the fact that it is not dramatic. In the story some people of a particular village in P.E.I. are gossiping about the scandalous behavior of one of their number. As a Presbyterian, the woman in question has actually dared to set foot in the Methodist church in the town--the territory of the "other." Scandalous indeed! In the story there is much outrage over such behavior, yet it was only a few years later that the United Church of Canada came into being, bringing those very same Methodists and Presbyterians into organic union in a denomination that believed and believes itself to be united and uniting--a very long distance to travel in just a few years. How archaic and unecumenical that story, which must reflect a very real dynamic in that time and place and so many others, seems to us now!
In so many ways we have come so far, but there are big questions and challenges before us, paradoxical ones, indeed. I continue, therefore, with three stories that point to the three themes that I believe to be critical as we think forward from 2010. These three stories indicate a tremendous interest in and understanding of the imperative of addressing pluralism from an ecumenical perspective.
The first story is one of an encounter I had with an evangelical colleague. It was only the day before yesterday that a sister in Christ who calls herself a believer asked me to articulate for her my theology of interfaith dialogue and relationship. Knowing that we live as Christians in a pluralistic world and wanting to stay completely centered in her Christian faith, she was determined to think through the biblical theology of interfaith dialogue and relationship.
The second story is one about youth. We get many students wanting to work with us at the Canadian Council of Churches these days. I actually had eleven in the last academic term choosing the C.C.C. as a part of their field-education courses or for credit as the practical expression of their faith and the publicsphere courses through the Department of Religious Studies of the University of Toronto. What is very noticeable is that all eleven of them want to work in areas that could be defined as social justice. In eight years as general secretary of the C.C.C., I have had only one student who wanted to work in the area of faith and witness, our overtly theological commission, the commission that does the intentional reflecting and writing in such areas as ecumenism. The vast majority of those theological and religious-studies students who want to work and become more experienced in the area of social justice are particularly attracted to the interfaith work in which we are engaged.
The third story is also very recent and is overtly interfaith. Just yesterday I had the privilege of meeting and conversing with the Iraqi Armenian Primate. In the course of our time together we talked about the situation of the Armenian Church in Iraq and questions of security and the role of the Americans in Iraq, of course. The conversation quickly turned, however, to the relations of the Christian denominations in Canada with our Muslim sisters and brothers. The Primate really wanted to hear and talk about that.
Three stories, three themes, and now three pieces of elaboration:
Evangelicalism: In the course of this event so far there has been much reference to the 2010 Edinburgh conference, as one would expect and as there should be. But, it must be said that the Edinburgh 2010 conference, for whatever variety of reasons, was a fairly small event. The Lausanne 2010 conference, however--what might be called the evangelical version of the remembrance of and celebration of Edinburgh 1910--has hardly even been mentioned. I often find this dynamic in contexts that self-define as "ecumenical"--a reluctance, a lack of awareness, perhaps even a slight hostility or some combination of all three, in terms of recognition of and engagement with our evangelical sisters and brothers. There is much energy, commitment, and deep reflection, including deep concern for issues of poverty, environment, and interfaith concerns, in those traditions that self-designate as evangelical. There is much less of a crisis of decreasing attendance and membership in those traditions that self-designate as evangelical. The Lausanne conference was a very big deal. I received regular emails from at least four dear colleagues who were there. Is what one might call "classical" ecumenism perpetuating a division in the Body of Christ? For the future of ecumenism in a pluralist world, this must be addressed.
Youth: I know that we are all trying to invite, include, and inspire youth engagement in ecumenism, trying hard in some cases, but look around the room. At best, there have been five people under the age of fifty in the room. We are trying but not succeeding in engaging youth. Perhaps one of the clues for the way forward is in my reference to youth and the C.C.C. above. Speeches like this one, papers, and theoretical discussions of ecumenism may have been helpful and, indeed, essential in past years, but they may not be what takes us into the future.
Structure and Institutionalization: I have to admit that it still gives me significant pause to hear myself mention or see myself write those words. I am, after all, of the generation that was at the tail end of the "hippy-dippy" movement. We thought we would be resistant forever to such things as institutionalization. What I see, now that I am older, is that it is structure that has in so many ways enabled ecumenism. When we speak about "mission," which can be manifested in a myriad of ways including the ministry of hospitality, it is often structure--or what we now also call "capacity"--that makes it possible. It was structure/capacity/institutional possibility that enabled the C.C.C. to be the center of energy/secretariat for the hosting of the 2010 InterFaith Leaders' Summit, for instance. As denominational finances collapse in some contexts, structural ecumenism is at risk. Since, at least at this point, it is church and ecumenical structures that support many of the interfaith conversations and activities, those are at risk too. To put it crudely, we really believe in ecumenism when we have money. What would it look like without the capacity for institutional support?
These are three themes or points in the thinking forward of ecumenism in a pluralistic reality, in the thinking forward of the meaning of mission in a changing context. There are no easy answers, but may we go boldly.
Karen A. Hamilton (United Church of Canada) has been the General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches since 2002, Governor of and program presenter for the Canadian Centre for Diversity since 2004, and Co-President of the World Conference of Religions for Peace since 2006. Since 2002, she has been Chair of the Executive, World Federalist Movement-Canada and a member of the Council for the International World Federalist Movement, as well a being a member of the Emmanuel College Council and the Senate of Victoria University. Ordained in 1995 in the United Church of Canada, she has served on its Interfaith Committee and chaired the Toronto South Presbytery (2008-09). She was senior minister of the St. James-Bond United Church in Toronto, 1995-2002; and President of the Toronto Conference of the United Church in 2000-01. She chaired the Canadian Christian Jewish Consultation, 2004-07, and was a director of the Christian Jewish Dialogue of Toronto, 1996-2002. She received the Association of Progressive Muslims of Ontario Heritage Day Award (2001) and the Canadian Interfaith Leadership Award (2010). She holds a B.A. from York University, Glendon College, Toronto; an M.Div. and a Th.M from University of Toronto, Victoria College, Emmanuel College; and a D.Min. (2001) from University of Toronto, Toronto School of Theology, Emmanuel College. Her book, The Acceptable Year of the Lord: Preaching the Old Testament with Faith, Finesse, and Fervour, was published by Novalis in 2008 (and received the 2010 Catholic Press Award in Scripture); Novalis expects to publish her forthcoming Living with the Psalms in 2012. Her articles have appeared in The Observer, Mandate, and the Toronto Journal of Theology, as well as in edited collections. She has done editorial work for Irwin Publishing and the Anglican Publishing House, as well as speaking about and working for ecumenism, interfaith dialogue, local and global justice, and the use of the Bible in the church.…
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Publication information: Article title: People of Paradox. Contributors: Hamilton, Karen A. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Ecumenical Studies. Volume: 46. Issue: 3 Publication date: Summer 2011. Page number: 365+. © 1998 Journal of Ecumenical Studies. COPYRIGHT 2011 Gale Group.
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