December 2017 / January 2018 - Vol. 95

 hands raised
                  and glowing cross
Called to Ecumenical Christian Community: Testimonies

Living Our Ecumenical Call
by  Mary Rose Jordan

I don’t like the smell of hard boiled eggs. I don’t think they would be the preferred lunch choice of very many middle school students. But, there I was, 12 years old, with my 2 hard-boiled eggs and lentil soup for lunch. I didn’t like Lent. I didn’t like having to get out my sulfuric smelling snack and endure the stares and turned up noses of my classmates. My saving grace though, was Elissa- my best friend and fellow hard-boiled egg unenthusiast. We were both growing up in Community together and although she was Baptist and I was Roman Catholic, our families had the same Lenten practices. Because we had each other, we embraced the 40 days of smelly lunches while we proudly told our classmates of the cool ‘gatherings’ our families attended and the different youth group we were in. My friendship with Elissa is one of the greatest treasures of my childhood.

Fast forward almost 20 years. I still am not a fan of hard boiled eggs. I do, however, realize the gift it was to have a friend who shared the same spiritual practices. It was an especially significant blessing considering our denominational differences. That friendship set a precedent in my life: I learned to be open to and appreciate friendships with people from other denominations, I learned that what I had in common with them outweighed the differences, I learned that other denominations had strengths that I could learn from, I learned that the ecumenical life we have in the Sword of the Spirit is unique and challenging and worth striving for.

In a time when our culture, even within Christianity, seems incredibly divided and focused on differences, I am overwhelmed with gratitude because I have grown up in an ecumenical environment. From a young age I have experienced the richness of ecumenism and have been blessed to have many relationships with brothers and sisters from other denominations that have played a significant role in my walk with Christ. The common way of life and shared spirituality I was a part of in my home community have given me a common witness along with my brothers and sisters, regardless of our denominational, racial or political backgrounds.

Our ecumenical witness is amazing and fills my heart with joy at the goodness of our Lord and his provision for us. Our friendship with each other, in my eyes at least, is a small taste of heaven.

[Mary Rose Jordan lives in the Community of the Risen Christ in Glasgow, Scotland. She is the executive director for The Lovely Commission, a website encouraging young women to follow the Lord.]

Good Soil and Open Doors
by Miguel Vargas 

Latin America is not the most fertile soil to work for Christian unity. The historical background is grim and can be painful in many ways. Many good Christians have resentment against Christians of other traditions around them. There is, however, also much hope and opportunities where we see growth in ecumenism.

Starting in 2008, in the context of our Summer Mission Program, we began giving a talk on ecumenism to pass on more vision to the youth coming from communities that have only one Christian tradition. In 2012 this evolved into a four-session course that we would teach every summer to groups of young people gathered together from Central America. My main experience talking to young people from all-Catholic communities was finding a big lack of information but at the same time a significant desire to make a change in their hearts and work towards Christian unity.

Many of these young people had never heard about the painful stories of division in the Body of Christ. Neither had they ever heard about the important steps towards unity that many Christians have taken in the past 150 years. However, as we call them on to understand and embrace the reality of historical division and to be convicted about the importance of working for Christian unity, I was struck by the great desire and openness they have to foster Christian unity even in contexts that are hostile towards ecumenism. The mission and way of life of our communities provide an excellent context for our youth to promote Christian unity as we evangelize and work for the needy.

Another experience I’ve had in recent years is working alongside my father teaching the same ecumenism course in the Central Seminary in San José. We give future priests four lectures about unity and provide opportunities to spend time with leaders of other Christian traditions including an Anglican Bishop, an Orthodox priest and an Evangelical Pastor. This is a very significant experience for future Catholic priests in Costa Rica but also for the leaders of these other traditions as it opens friendly channels of dialogue and fellowship.

We can feel a limitation from our contexts and feel like we don’t have much to contribute to ecumenism. However, we can ask the Lord to open unexpected doors to us and to give us the grace to enter then so that we can keep building unity in the Body of Christ.

[Miguel Vargas is a member of the Servants of the Word. He lives in “Arbol de Vida” community in San Jose, Costa Rica and serves in mission to young people throughout Central America.] 

Back to My Roots

by Rami Abou Haidar 

I was baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church as an infant, following my family’s tradition. As a young student I attended a Catholic school and I regularly attended their liturgy on Sundays and on special seasons. Yet in all that time, I never participated in a Greek Orthodox liturgy.

When I joined the People of God, an ecumenical Christian community in Lebanon [composed of Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant members, I began a journey of discovering with my Orthodox roots. Ecumenism is one of the core pillars of our common identity in the People of God community, along with the importance of being faithful members of our respective churches and Christian traditions. But at that time I did not have the understanding nor the courage to return to my Christian origins. Until one day, while leading a household of university Christian men, I was challenged and encouraged by one of the community leaders to discover my original church roots. Looking back now, I am certain that his advice was inspired by the Holy Spirit. His words touched my heart and soul in a remarkable way, and enflamed my heart with a zeal and passion to discover what I had been missing for years.

So, the following Sunday, I started to attend Divine Liturgy at a nearby Greek Orthodox Church. Although everything seemed different, I knew I was home. At the beginning, I put a lot of effort into understanding the prayers, reading different books, and asking many brothers for guidance. Little by little, and with each Sunday, a love towards my Church grew. Each word in the liturgy began to touch my heart, mind and soul. I grew to discover the Lord’s work in a new, marvelous way!

Contemplating this experience, I can assert that it has led me to a deeper understanding of ecumenism. I see more clearly how our faithfulness to our individual churches and traditions fortifies our collective unity. I now recognize the work of the Holy Spirit to draw us together, discern the richness that lies both within my Church and within other Churches, and praise the Lord for his stunning work of bringing us together. Indeed, I now see better than ever how the Lord’s work in our community is a contribution to the life of all his Churches.

Rami Abou Haidar lives and serves as a leader in the People of God community in Beirut, Lebanon

Why I Joined Ecumenical Christian Community

by Arthur Delargy

I've been a member of Antioch Community for over 25 years now, having first come into contact with community through one of its outreaches based at the University of London, where I was studying.

I can think of many reasons why I decided to join Antioch, not least the blessing of being able to find “a place to stand” with men and women who were, and are, constant in faith, hope, and love, having a vision to be a bulwark and a place of refuge, and a desire to make Jesus known in this generation. But, I always come back to one thing, something that makes Antioch, though numerically a small community, a significant, unique, and prophetic expression of God's love for his people, and that's our ecumenical call – a call to live out Christian unity with integrity.

I was born in 1968, in Ballymena, Northern Ireland – the year the modern-day “troubles,” as they are euphemistically called, began. I was brought up in a strong Catholic family, in a small farming community. All the other villages around us were all Catholic, and also quite strongly believed that Northern Ireland should become part of the Republic of Ireland, not the United Kingdom. To say that I had a parochial upbringing would be true in its fullest sense. Anti-Protestant feeling was very strong in our local community. The sense of mistrust, suspicion, and hostility was not helped by the segregation of the Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland. In my case, I was 17 years old when I met my first Protestant. In many ways this was a watershed, the guy was perfectly normal (we went on to be close friends when we went to college in London) so my worldview, such as it was at the age of 17, was challenged for the first time. 

A year later, when I left home to study in London, the Lord started to stretch my perspective even further. I became involved in University Christian Outreach (UCO), a student Christian group at the University of London (now called Koinonia), mainly through the persistence and faithfulness of a few men. Even back in 1986 the university environment was a hostile place for Christians. This group was unique among the student Christian societies in providing a place for Protestants and Catholics to serve and worship together, a place where I quickly felt spiritually at home.

Later on I discovered that UCO was an outreach of the West London Community (now called Antioch), a group of Christians of all denominations, including families and single people, as well as a lay brotherhood of celibate men who were seeking to live out the call to Christian unity in their day-to-day lives. The theologians call this grassroots evangelism – it's a precious thing, which comes from the recognition that as fellow members of the Body of Christ we have a relationship with and an obligation to each other. In 1988, I made a public commitment to join the West London Community. That night was significant for me and for the community too – at the time the senior leader of the community was a Protestant from Northern Ireland, and I was the first Northern Irish Catholic to join. On the same evening a Singhalese from Sri Lanka joined, crossing another divide, and taking his place worshipping side by side with several Sri Lankan Tamils, who at that time formed a significant contingent of the West London Community.

Regarding reconciliation of Jew and Gentile, the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (2:14-16) wrote: 

For [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
In Antioch we attempt to live out our life together because of what we've got in common – what we have received from the same person – the Lord Jesus. At the same time we try to understand our differences, showing charity and humility in our dealings with one another, and supporting each other in being faithful members of our own churches and traditions. This is not cheap and not always easy, but as Psalm 133 says, when we dwell in unity, God commands a blessing, and this is my experience of 25 years living in this ecumenical, charismatic, covenant Christian community called Antioch.

[Arthur and his wife Rebecca live in London, United Kingdom with their two children.]

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