This week, between the festivals of St. Peter and St. Paul, the church observes as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The concept began in 1908, when a former Anglican priest, who had converted to Roman Catholicism, initiated the movement. While the spirit and intent of the week is noble, the selection of the date reflected a distinctively northern hemispheric dominance. Today in the southern hemisphere, I am told, the week is moved closer to Pentecost to reflect both a liturgical and practical accommodation. (In the southern hemisphere, many people are on vacation during January)
While not a very frequent question in my travels around the synod, I am occasionally asked about my perspective on ecumenical relations. What follows is a first attempt to articulate my views on this matter.
Since September 1, I’ve engaged all of our ecumenical partners in multiple platforms, including my participation in the consecration of two new Episcopal bishops, namely, Douglas Fisher in Western Massachusetts, and W. Nick Knisely in Rhode Island. I also regularly interact with the seven Episcopal bishops in strategizing for mission related projects in North Hampton, MA, an upcoming Lenten series addressing violence in Connecticut, and our joint endeavor along with the United Methodists in Vermont focusing on immigration ministry. I’ve been invited by the Rev. Jim Antal of the United Church of Christ to be a participant in an April 27th Care of Creation event to highlight the impact of global warming. The Rev. Laura Everitt, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches and I consult on a number of projects where shared resources could benefit numerous partners. We are also engaged in mission together with the United Methodists, in Vermont and in Massachusetts, and together attending a church planting conference with all of our mission developers. And that is a partial list of such involvements.
I would also like to lift up my relationship with the Rev. Timothy Yeadon, President of the New England District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. We have a warm relationship, that is yielding a bridge in the midst of a larger national struggle. This was especially true during the days following the tragedy in Newtown, CT.
It is my firm conviction that ecumenical partnerships can be one of the ways forward in our changing context. My chief interest lies in making things happen rather than in ceremony. Ecumenical partnerships are worth pursuing when:
1. We are able to engage in concrete mission-oriented endeavors.
2. Our efforts are focused on the needs of the poor and disenfranchised.
3. The effort is clearly of mutual interest.
All of this is intended to communicate my firm commitment to ecumenical partnerships for the sake of the gospel. My personal mission commitment is based on the conviction that my own discipleship includes being a disciple as I engage others as disciples of Jesus Christ in authentic community for the good of the world. This focus is helping me discern where to put my energy going forward.
Regarding your own Spirit-given energy, be assured of my prayers as you bear witness in and through our Lutheran community of faith for the good of the world. I encourage you to make appropriate connections with our ecumenical partners in your local context. We all know that is where the gospel hits the road. I would love to hear what’s happening in your neighborhood.
James E. Hazelwood
New England Synod