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Ecumenical Day: Advancing toward unity

Youngsook C. Kang

From left: The Rev. Valerie Walker, Community of Christ; Rev. Dr. Doug Wirt of Christian Church; Archbishop Vicken Aykazian of The Armenian Church and Youngsook C. Kang, The United Methodist Church

By the Rev. Youngsook Charlene Kang

Ecumenical Day at General Conference came in the midst of tremendous angst among delegates and other attendees.  A question was raised: “What does it mean to have an ecumenical day when we have our own internal division?”

Perhaps it was fitting to have the whole morning devoted to promoting ecumenism, for ecumenism is about bringing unity among Christians.  

What is Ecumenism?

Ecumenism is stated this way by the World Council of Churches, which represents at the international level: “A community of churches confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the scriptures, and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Son and Holy Spirit. It seeks to advance towards this unity, as Jesus prayed for his followers, ‘so that the world may believe’" (John 17:21). (www.wcc-coe.org)

Bishop Abrahams' message came right in time in response to such pursuit of unity.  Bishop Ivan M. Abrahams, General Secretary of the World Methodist Council, who preached at Opening Worship, said our common call is to be amongst the “least of these.” He juxtaposed Jesus of Palestine with Jesus of Constantine and said Methodism is committed to those on the margins.

200th Anniversary Celebration of AME Church

The 200th anniversary celebration of of the Africa Methodist Episcopal Church was a highlight of the day.

The AMEC grew out of the Free African Society (FAS) which Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and others established in Philadelphia in 1787.  As black Methodists faced racism, Allen called them in to form a new Wesleyan denomination -- the AME -- and was consecrated as its first bishop. Today, with more than 2 million members in 7,000 congregations on four continents, the AME Church plays a role in sustaining the Allen tradition.

Another highlight is Full Communion relationships between The United Methodist Church and the Moravian Church (Northern and Southern Provinces); and The United Methodist Church and the Uniting Church in Sweden. 

2016 Ecumenical Awards

The 2016 Ecumenical Awards were given to three outstanding leaders. to Bishop Mortimer Arias, Diana Eck for advocating religious pluralism and Thom White Wolf Fassett for his work of healing relationships.  These three recipients spoke at the luncheon, which is sponsored by the Council of Bishops Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationship and the General Commission General Conference.

Not surprisingly, a common theme of the speeches given by the three recipients was justice, peace and equality. That is exactly what Bishop Abrahams was urging the Conference through his excellent message.

Ministry with the 'least of these'

Bishop Abrahams said, “The Jesus of Palestine whose Great Commission is the theme of General Conference, is the Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem’s manger where anybody and everybody -- even the animals -- were welcome. He was not born in Caesar’s or Herod’s palace, accessible only to a privileged few, but rather identified with the 'least of these' in every possible way.”

I talked with quite a few people about the mood of the conference throughout the day. Everyone that I spoke with was wishing for us to be the “church.” What does it mean to be the church? It means to live with hope and possibilities.

Possiblities lead to hope

Bishop Abrahams proclaimed, “My sisters and brothers, we are called to be harbingers of hope in a bruised and broken world pregnant with possibilities. Paul writing to the Ephesians says if we open ourselves to the power of God’s Spirit and allow her to work within us, God is able “to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20).

Yes, the world is full of possibilities -- possibilities of living in unity.  And possibilities lead to hope.

Youngsook Charlene Kang, Director of Mission and Ministry for the Rocky Mountain Conference. Contact her at Youngsook@rmcumc.com.