GCCUIC Becomes the Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships (OCUIR)

NewsAs of today, 1 January 2013, the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns is now the new Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church.

We celebrate the ministry of the old GCCUIC (1 January 1981 to 31 December 2012) and pray God’s blessings upon the new OCUIR.

Dreaming Together — Cultivating a Vision of God’s Love, Peace, and Justice

G2God creates us with unique gifts and talents — and with particular cultures and identities. Our genuine unity as Christians and our faithful interreligious relationships live upon a foundation of God’s love.

As friendships build across the boundaries that have divided us, the informal art of dreaming together about God’s love, peace, and justice can help us grow as individuals and communities. We may be called to different religious world-views and practices . . . but we live out our faithfulness in the same world. The challenge to all of us is to love all of God’s children — to love our neighbour as ourself.

As we come to the end of one year and the beginning of another, we are again reminded how each year bears the imprint of our love and hatred, our peace and violence, our dreams and nightmares.

Ministries of Christian unity and interreligious relationships — like all aspects of faith well-lived — rest upon our choices to say yes to God’s love . . . or say no. All relationships require the investment of time and energy. We do, to a large extent, reap what we sow.

It makes sense, then, doesn’t it, that we would want to dream a world together that is worthy of the One who makes us? This is my hope for our shared ministry together — and for the time ahead we are given by God.

God has put us here together. May we be blessings to one another.

Together in Connections — Visiting One Another

G2It’s an old idea — and a good one: Visiting one another.

When I was a small boy living in southern West Virginia, many of the churches around me made a point of sending visitors to each other’s congregations on a regular schedule. Greetings were delivered from one congregation to the other. Sometimes gifts were sent (especially if there was a particular need). It was a very deliberate acknowledgement that we are all children of God and that we share bonds of love and mutual respect.

In ministries of Christian unity and interreligious relationships, it can be a two-way blessing to make efforts to visit the other religious communities in your locale. As a preparatory step towards that, you may want to contact the pastor or other leader of the community. You can take that contact as an opportunity to see if the other community would feel comfortable with your presence; also any questions that might help you feel at ease in going there.

Likewise, your local church can extend invitations to other churches and religious communities to join you for worship or community events. Hospitality is an important component of Christian unity and interreligious relationships ministries. In welcoming one another we move beyond the initial sense of the strange and find points of connection with each other.

Together in Awareness — Newsletters, Blogs, and Social Media

G2Being aware of the events and news in different religious communities — and making it easy for them to know about what is going on in yours — is a great way to build and strengthen ministries of Christian unity and interreligious relationships. Subscribing to newsletters, blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and the like . . . and then passing along the information to your own congregation . . . can help people feel the needs and goings on in their community in more tangible ways. Likewise, building up awareness of your own local church activities among other churches and religious communities can draw people closer to your church community as well.

Share openly about your own community. Also take the time to discuss among yourselves whatever things puzzle you in the goings on of your neighbours. If they seem strange to you — imagine how strange you must be to them! What will it take to get to know one another better? What about your neighbours is interesting to you? What might be interesting to others in your local church life?

Maybe there are community events you might wish to attend. Maybe there are things going on in your church home you might wish to actively invite others to attend.

Together in Service — Meeting the Needs in Our Communities

G2Theology is a wonderful speculative art. Some — like myself — take delight in discussing realms of possibility that lie beyond the full apprehension of the physical senses. Since theology, ultimately, must rest (at least in part) on surmises, hopes, and faith claims, it lends itself — in the hands of some — to unresolvable bickering. As committed as I am to theological contemplation (I am a sometimes seminary professor, after all), I think hoping too much for earthly concord on theological topics is bound to prove folly.

Like my pietistic forebears in the faith, I find great hope (perhaps the greatest hope) for genuine Christian unity and faithful interreligious relationships in shared commitments to working to meet the needs of people in our communities. I have seen it happen so many times . . . people from different religious traditions brought close to one another as they worked to help others.

A great example of this was in a small town in Michigan over ten years ago. I went there to conduct a two-week-long research project for my doctoral studies. I worked with a friend of mine who was the local United Methodist pastor. He did months of preparatory work. When he arrived there, the community had a couple hundred young people living in an economically depressed area. There were few prospects for jobs. Community morale was low. And concern for the future of the children and youth was very high.

For about a hundred and fifty years, however, the town had been divided among half a dozen or so churches. Most people had few — if any — deep connections with people who belonged to different churches than they themselves belonged to . . . even if they were living on the same block of the street.

The churches came together under the courageous leadership of a couple pastors in town. They held a revival in the city park to raise awareness of the situation faced by the young people. They raised money for a skateboard park. They attended worship at each other’s churches. And they planned a common youth ministry together.

I was there to take pictures, to talk with people, and to observe. What I saw was remarkable. Several of the youth looked deeply moved that hundreds of people in the town were coming together to try to help them during those hard economic times. They were trying to offer them more than despair. What they offered was love and practical help.

In coming together for the youth, the members of the different churches came to explore differences and similarities among them. Two women living on opposite sides of the same block for sixty years met one another for the first time and became friends.

Then, at the end of my time there, I saw the community come together as it never had before. The twin towers fell on 911 and Christians of different denominations came together under one roof to pray and weep with one another.

Imagination and courage opened new possibilities in that town. Christians of different traditions came together and discovered new love for one another.

It makes me wonder, now, why we fixate on differences as cause for division at all. When we look at the needs of our communities, we see invitations from God to join together in meaningful ways; ways that are themselves invitations to discover and love one another.

What are the needs in your community? Who might you invite to work with you to meet those needs?

Keeping the Whole Created World in Focus — Personal Self-Reflection

G2Among the common spiritual practice of Wesleyan Methodists over the life of the traditions has been the practice of personal self-reflection. This can take a variety of forms. Journalling is probably the greatest of these. The idea is to pause and reflect upon life’s events, how we have lived our days, and how we see ourselves hoping to continue to grow in faith and as God’s children.

Such quiet times of introspection are fertile ground for reflecting upon our place as individuals and communities of disciples in relation to the Christian unity and interreligious relationship ministries of the church. Questions about how we relate to other brothers and sisters in the family of God’s creation are good to ask frequently as we reflect upon our relationship with God, others, and ourself.

It is the questions that shape us most — it is the answers that fit to the questions; and so the questions we choose to contemplate are formative to who we are — and to what shape we will take in future.

I am a long-time journaller. My mom first introduced me to the spiritual discipline when I was perhaps six or seven. For many years, it didn’t take much at all. I would scribble a few lines in a beautiful Diary. But it seemed that nothing was important enough to write down there. I began again every now and then. I was well into my twenties before I became a regular journaller. For me, the practice has evolved over time as I have grown spiritually over time as well.

If you do not practice a spiritual discipline of self-reflection, I highly recommend this one. Now, with literally hundreds of composition books, spiral notebooks, hand-bound blank books, Moleskines, and Moleskine lool-a-likes filled with near daily explorations of life and life’s questions, I can see the deep imprint of a life lived and reflected upon.

These questions of Christian unity and interreligious relationships are questions that are pertinent to our relationships in this present world and in the world to come. What is our place in relation to God in the midst of such a beautiful and diverse family? What is the place of each and every one of us?

For some, these questions are unsettling. But no unsettling question loses its power because it is not asked. On the contrary — we can only find ourselves when we ask the questions we find deep in our hearts. Without the questions, we remain lost — and we live estranged from all that God calls good.

Many of the most meaningful insights I have come by in my relationship with God have come as I have watched ink pour out of my pen onto the pages of a notebook. Sometimes my pen hovers there, unmoving, for half an hour or more. A time devoted to words sometimes becomes a time of deepest, wordless, silence. And in that time, the face of God shines in the most unexpected places — and I am remade by the question that filled the silence of the day.

Keeping the Whole Created World in Focus — Small Groups

G2One of the most important characteristics of Wesleyan Methodist spirituality — historically — is discipleship within the context of small groups. John Wesley believed that the individual needs the support of fellow-travellers in the faith in order to grow in truth, love, and holiness.

It makes sense, then, that the ministries of Christian unity and interreligious relationships should find nurture and encouragement in the context of small group ministries within the church.

When sharing in faith, accountability, and work together, it will enliven our time together if we remember the whole of the created world — filled with all of God’s children. Shared prayer is a good opportunity for reaching out with our hearts and minds towards those beyond our congregation and our church. It is also good to make time in these group meetings for sharing experiences of our ministries with other Christians and people of other religious world-views. Questions in the heart of one are questions to challenge a community as well. Loves, joys, disappointments, and frustrations are experiences to help everyone in the group grow.

Just as each small group does well to consider its relationship to the local church and to the Body of Christ as a whole, it likewise does well to consider how it relates to others beyond the boundaries of the familiar church community.

I recall one group of which I was a part in which there was a dear brother who was challenged by the need to respect sabbath observances by his Jewish employees. He was a driven business man who’s company worked hard at innovation. He thought in terms of seven-day work weeks. He brought his frustration to the group — at having to give up a day of innovation and productivity for part of his workforce. And then . . . someone asked him why only part of his workforce. What about the Christians? The Muslims? The Hindus? The Buddhists?

His wrestling with the spiritual needs of one small number of his employees helped challenge him — and all of us — to see the spiritual needs of another one-hundred workers. An interreligious question had given rise to an overall question of faithfulness to God. Together we asked, ‘Do we not all need to pause with regularity to remember that God is God? We are creatures and we need only make a small part of the world . . . not all of it.’

Next week, our friend returned and told us he had instituted a new policy: No matter what the business pressures or deadlines, each employee could take one day of their choice for sacred observances — and rest.

The world found its way into our small group . . . and we grew because of it.


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