You've noticed, I'm sure, that we have more than a few churches and faith groups nestled throughout our county. Our 2013-14 United Churches directory listed 296.
One blessing nowadays is that we can visit different churches. We embrace the fact that we are all part of God's family. Christians are brothers and sisters through Christ, cousins to members of other living faiths.
Our parents and grandparents lived with restrictions on going to other churches. My mother-in-law worried that her Catholic parents would discover she went to Baptist youth fellowship with her cousins!
Today, we go to weddings and celebrations with family and friends, special services, workshops, concerts and meals; and we don't think anything of it. We realize no two people believe exactly the same and that that's OK.
In fact, it actually helps the Church. In the opening words of scripture many translations start "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. ..." This speaks of God actively creating "in" the beginning. Other translations start "At the beginning of God's creating of the heavens and the earth. ..." This establishes that God was already creating when God began the creation of the heavens and the earth.
This nuanced conflict has good theological arguments on both fronts. They enlarge and deepen our idea of God and our world.
To be willing to learn is an important life lesson. Truth is seldom discovered in isolation. Each of our traditions has preserved better than others one or more aspects of the mystery of God's work in Christ. We benefit from all perspectives.
That's an important life lesson and one of 15 points suggested by the Rev. Thomas Ryan, who was the director of the Montreal-based Canadian Centre for Ecumenism when he wrote the article "What Does It Mean To Be Ecumenical." Ryan wrote this article after being asked to explain what being ecumenical meant, and his thoughts flew in many directions. (I've had that experience too.) When he got home he wrote this article. Some of his points, in brief, are ....
To pray regularly for the unity of the Church, as Christ wills it and when he wills it.
To be rooted in a particular Christian tradition, know it well to present it coherently to others, and to recognize Christian life in others even when differently expressed.
To be fascinated and curious about that which is different...
To cultivate a historical consciousness..... We are on a journey.
To be ready to celebrate vitality in the body of Christ wherever it is found.
To be willing to work together.
To feel the scandal of our divisions.
To be open to God's will for the Church.
To have an appreciation for the hierarchy of truths in Church doctrine.
To try to understand others as they understand themselves.
To be alert to the presence of God and the action of the Holy Spirit in the lives of other Christians and in members of other living faiths.
Together is the only way to discover how beautiful diversity is. I hope you'll join me in taking many opportunities to discover more about your own faith tradition, and to explore what others understand and believe about God. Remember God loves us all.
"What Does It Mean To Be Ecumenical" can be found in its' entirety at www.tomryancsp.org/newsletter.html or in Dr. Alton Motter's book, "Ecumenism 101" or through the United Churches office.
- Bernstine is the executive director of United Churches of Lycoming County.