Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

How Fifty Years in Ecumenical and Interreligious Life Have Changed Me

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

How Fifty Years in Ecumenical and Interreligious Life Have Changed Me

Article excerpt

The year after the Journal of Ecumenical Studies began publishing, I moved to Philadelphia. My seminary and graduate studies at Duke University were over, and I had a research grant to work on my doctoral dissertation. My husband, a political scientist, had a job at Temple University. I was twenty-five years old and had just been ordained by the United Church of Christ to serve in campus ministry. My parents had met at church, and I had been "churched" my entire life. I was eager to support the commitments of the U.C.C. to promote and embody Christian unity, but I knew very little about the ecumenical movement.

Looking back, at that stage in my life I was ecumenically naive. I did not understand the importance of doctrinal differences and ecclesiastical legacies. I thought contemporary Christians simply needed to get acquainted, or re-acquainted. In grade school my best friend had been Roman Catholic, and I had many Jewish neighbors. I was sure that we could all get along if we just listened and did not get defensive. I knew about the early Christian schisms and the various church-dividing arguments that splintered Protestantism into many denominations, but those things seemed long ago. My local Congregational church had become part of the U.C.C. in 1957. I was inspired by the passion of the U.C.C. to fulfill Jesus's prayer "that they may all be One" (Jn. 17:21). I was also excited about the Second Vatican Council. In the mid-1960's I believed that God was leading people of faith into new expressions of shared religious understanding and action.

This essay is my attempt to look at the past fifty years and share reflections stimulated by my personal ecumenical and interfaith journey. I have asked myself: How did I change? What things happened to me? The Journal of Ecumenical Studies has documented many of the changes that I have lived through. Yet, it was personal experience, not simply reported events, that transformed my thinking. During the past fifty years I have lived into new ways of thinking about (1) the Bible and my Christian faith, (2) the Christian church (churches), and (3) contemporary discipleship in the midst of religious pluralism. I am still a Christian, but I am a very different Christian at age seventy-five. I am more confident about the outrageous message of Jesus Christ, and I am more critical of the way humanity has manipulated that message in the church and the world. I remain deeply connected to the church. It is a large part of who I am. My ministry, my research, my teaching, and my involvement in religious organizations are driven by my conviction that God (the Holy, the Divine) was/is in Jesus Christ reconciling the world. I do not understand fully what that means, but I am inspired by the power of religious convictions and actions around the world. That power remains a mystery and a gift that I cherish and seek to share.

Over the years I became a seminary professor, a feminist advocate, a church historian, an academic administrator, and later the president of a theological school. I have participated in national and international Christian commissions and programs that seek to educate religious leaders to serve church and world. I have stretched my thinking beyond classic ideas of Christian mission and embraced the new challenges and gifts of religious pluralism. My horizons expanded, pushing me into places beyond my comfort zone. And, as I learned to walk with other religious people, to see and to hear what they see and hear, I changed. This is a humbling process, causing me both to question my Christian faith and at the same time inspiring me to claim my Christian identity with more confidence.

This essay clusters my reflections and experiences from the past fifty years around three areas of change that have been reshaping ecumenical and interreligious work;

1. The expansion of information about the Bible and the ways it defines Christian faith and worship. …

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