The Failure of Top-Down Ecumenism

Two news releases recently demonstrated to me the failure of ecumenism that is guided largely by denominational staff and not shared by the faith practice of people in the pews.

Reporting on the recent ELCA Conference of Bishops, an ELCA press release stated:

Without "grassroots ecumenism," in which people of all faiths study God’s Word and work together for the common good, Hanson said it will be difficult to maintain ecumenical momentum.  He called on the ELCA synod bishops to be "imaginative, chief ecumenical officers" in their synods.

Years after our agreements with The Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Moravian Church and United Church of Christ, where are we?  Has our witness to this country become more clear?  Are we more united in mission because of these agreements?  I’m not convinced.

Then I saw this article over at beliefnet: Anglicans, Catholics Still Not United on Mary.  It describes a recent meeting of  the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation in the USA and the skittishness some American Anglicans feel toward Mary, despite having agreed upon a statement of shared belief and practice regarding Mary some two years ago.  Looking toward the day when the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches are reunited in a common communion – but recognizing that a shared belief about Mary would be a precondition to full communion – The Rev. Ronald Robertson, a Catholic consultant to the group, said, "This would not necessarily mean we’d have to use the same words," he
said. "We could agree that different words describe the same reality."


That sounds like the logic that got us into a mess with the Roman Catholics and the Joint Statement on Justification.  In that case, we agreed upon the same words, but evidently took them to mean different things. 

No wonder the people in the pews don’t care much about or understand what church bureaucrats are  discussing and doing in the ecumenical realm.  Does it really matter? 

Ecumenism that matters is the grassroots ecumenism that happens locally.  Why not just walk down the street and pray with the folks in that other – equally half-empty – church building?  Swap pulpits, share communion, offer a joint VBS.

That’s ecumenism that makes a difference.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

4 thoughts on “The Failure of Top-Down Ecumenism

  1. I think that we who lead need to do a much better job of modeling this type of ecumenical cooperation–and model it frequently and with joy. My internship congregation has a once yearly joint service with the Episcopalians across the street. On that Sunday, about half of the Lutheran congregation didn’t show up. The service was at the exact same time, and the Lutheran Vicar was preaching. How can a full communion agreement mean anything to people who won’t worship with other Christians or in another building?

  2. Unfortunately, people in some traditions in this country, and I’m not talking about the specific groups that Lutherans have agreements with, are apparently taught to consider some other groups as not Christian or not-quite-Christian. I don’t know what the clergy think, but when the lay people who are leaders make statements like, “Well, there are a few people in the ____ church who are Christian…” Insert the name of large denominations in that blank. And these are churches that do ecumenical events together.
    This begs the question: Just who is originating this type of thinking? If pastors hear it, do they “correct” it.
    OTOH, many lay people study the Bible together across denominational lines and discover quite a lot to enhance their own faith. But there are groups, apparently some Lutherans among them, who believe a “Bible Study” means that the pastor in in the front lecturing about a specific interpretation of a passage.

  3. The resistance to ecumenism by many if not most of those in our pews on sunday is centered in the brick and mortar, floor and ceiling that surrounds them. The continuing commitment to our towering edifices both old, as in my situation, and new is an impediment to ecumenism and stewardship which will only be overcome when the leadership in all churches begins to see the drain on resources which these redundant and underutilized structures are. I know that it sounds simplistic but I believe that in coming together we will come together.

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