A missed Ecumenical Opportunity By

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A Missed Ecumenical Opportunity


Martin L. Cox, Jr.

Chair, Bishop’s Committee on Christian Unity & Interreligious Concerns
One of the many attempts to try and get the church moving beyond the church doors is “The Church Has Left the Building.” Whereas there may be some theological dialogue centering on such a concept, the program is here to stay. Having said that, why not use this as an ecumenical moment?
This is not a novel idea, but this program would be an ideal time for UM churches to invite others to join in this enterprise. This has worked in some communities and might want to be explored in all of the communities that offer this program. It would offer an opportunity for clergy groups to do more than meet for coffee and conversation, and move beyond shared food pantries.
There is, though, one caveat to this ecumenical moment. For UM churches formal worship has often been abandoned. Why this is the case is something I do not understand, but where an ecumenical program such as this is used, one might find that Lutheran Churches and Episcopal Churches, and others that apparently take formal worship services a bit more seriously than do many UM churches, if they are interested in such a ministry at all are going to insist on formal worship. What has happened is that these churches will have worship first and then join the enterprise that has gotten underway. The church is divided once more and we relive the Mary/Martha story over once more. Who has chosen the better portion?
Here is where we might be missing a really good opportunity for ecumenical worship. Why not start the Sunday worship at an earlier agreed upon hour such as 9:00 AM. The service could follow a number of different patters. It could simply be a service of Morning Prayer, something most Protestant denominations can find in their service books. (The UM service is found in the UM Book of Worship on page 596, “An Order for Morning Praise and Prayer.) Since most of the Protestant Church in any given community are willing to share Holy Communion, starting the days events gathered around the Table might be a tremendous witness to the community as a whole. This worship could be moved around from church to church. Obviously, if a Roman Catholic Church is involved in this event then offering the Eucharist becomes a dividing tool. However, following the Worship would be a grand time to graphically illustrate that formal worship leads us out to engage the world in a variety of ways.
Let me know if this works in your community, or why it will not work. Ecumenical events do not happen by mistake, but by careful planning and shared visions.

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