One of the challenges from the movements in the #mainlinesummer, including #acts8, #dreamumc, #dreampcusa and others is how to re-envision our denominations for the future. Whatever those visions entail, I believe they will all include one common ingredient – ecumenism. For those of us who are not ecumenical wonks (and I know that I’m in the less than one percent for being one) “ecumenical” is a word that creates yawns. It brings up visions of long, tepid joint Thanksgiving services. But the future of our churches will be ecumenical for two reasons. One is a glass half-empty, the other is a glass half-full.
The glass half-empty reason is because we can literally no longer afford to walk apart. In the sixties, we could afford to each build high-rise denominational headquarters in major cities and employ hundreds of staffers as our churches built out in the ’burbs. In our time, as denominations shrink down to more historical levels of membership, we are all faced with budget cuts that threaten important ministries. What better way to continue these ministries than to walk together where we can! Do we all need separate denominational health plans? Do we really need completely separated national youth ministries? What about disaster relief? These separate programs used to be tools of competition between our denominations, but they are rapidly becoming ministries that simply cannot stand unless we find ways to cooperate. What about co-locating denominational headquarters? Could not support staff and office equipment contracts be shared? As the corporately-ordered denominations continue to implode, ecumenism is becoming a reality of survival rather than a polite sideline.
But let’s spend more time on the glass half-full, shall we? Jesus prayed in his high-priestly prayer that we might be one. Wow, we’ve really screwed that one up. But we are in a time of opportunity. There are those that have talked about an “Ecumenical Winter,” since we as Christians don’t get mainstream recognition for ecumenical progress like we used to a century ago. No one is handing our Nobel prizes these days for ecumenical work. But I don’t agree with that. Dr. Tom Ferguson, AKA the Crusty Old Dean, has written that we are in an “Ecumenical Autumn”. (His articles are excellent on this, find the first part here.) This is not the dead time, it is the time for harvesting the rich fruits of the Faith and Order movement in order to prepare for winter (see glass half-empty) and then a spring.