Rev. Dr David M. Chapman
The third international receptive ecumenism conference, held at Fairfield University, Connecticut, 9-12 June 2014, gathered together 125 academics and ecumenists from around the world, sponsored by the university in association with the University of Durham, England. The two previous conferences were held in Durham in 2006 and 2009. The World Methodist Council was ably represented by Dr Karen Westerfield Tucker (United States), Dr David Chapman (Great Britain), and Dr Trevor Hoggard (New Zealand), and there were participants from the United Methodist Church and the Uniting Church in Australia. Other Christian world communions represented included Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Reformed, Roman Catholic, and Salvation Army.
Receptive ecumenism adopts a method of ecumenical encounter whereby those involved seek to bring about mutual ecclesial learning and an exchange of the gifts entrusted to each by the Holy Spirit for the good of the whole Church. While this may be new and exciting for some traditions, our World Methodist Council dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church has been following the same method for the past ten years, and the fruits of that dialogue can be seen in the most recent reports: The grace given you in Christ: Catholics and Methodists Reflect Further on the Church (Seoul, 2006) and Encountering Christ the Saviour: Church and Sacraments (Durban, 2011), available on the WMC and Vatican websites.
The plenary sessions included speakers on receptive ecumenism in relation to regional contexts in North America, Britain, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The final plenary session considered how the methods of receptive ecumenism might be extended to inter-religious dialogue and comparative theology, generating lively discussion. Parallel sessions of shorter papers afforded an opportunity to give close attention to specific themes in receptive ecumenism. Dr Chapman’s paper on receptive ecumenism in relation to Methodist-Roman Catholic dialogue on grace and holiness offered a foretaste of what the current round of conversations hopes to present in its report to the next WMC meeting in Houston, 2016.
Besides being an academic conference, this was also an experiential exercise in receptive ecumenism as each day participants shared in morning prayers and a Eucharist celebrated by one of the participating traditions with a preacher from a different tradition. On the final day of the conference, Dr Tucker and Dr Chapman presided at a Methodist Covenant Service and Holy Communion in the university’s Egan Chapel of St Ignatius Loyola, drawing proceedings to a fitting close as participants renewed their baptismal commitment to Christian discipleship. Fittingly, the sermon on this occasion was preached by Fr Tony Currer, who has responsibility at the Vatican for Roman Catholic relations with Anglicans and Methodists. For many of those present, this was their first experience of a Methodist Covenant Service, and they were deeply appreciative of the liturgy and the opportunity to sing a number of Charles Wesley’s hymns – together, Methodism’s greatest gifts to the worship of the universal Church.
Altogether, this was an inspiring conference, and already there are tentative plans to hold a similar event in Australia sometime in the future. The enthusiasm of those who participated in the conference at Fairfield University, and the increasingly global reach of receptive ecumenism, indicate that the classical ecumenical movement still has considerable vitality in the life and mission of the universal Church.