October 2008 - Vol. 23

Members of the Assembly of the Sword of the Spirit met last May in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Moving Forward our Ecumenical Call

An interview with the Chairmain of the Association of Ecumenical Communities.

The  Assembly of the Sword of the Spirit in May of 2008 elected Dave Hughes as  chairman of the Assembly of Ecumenical Communities (AEC). In the following interview Dave explains the role of the AEC in the Sword of the Spirit. 
For those Sword of the Spirit members who do not know you personally, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Would be glad to. First, my wife Jane and I have been married for 27 years and have five wonderful children, ages 13 to 25. We both got involved in ecumenical Christian community during college days in Ann Arbor, Michigan and have been active ever since. We took a brief sabbatical from active participation in the early 90’s when my company sent me on an assignment to France but quickly re-engaged in the Word of Life community in Ann Arbor upon our return. We are members of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a Reformed denomination. I am trained as an engineer and have executive level responsibility for leading various international programs for General Motors.

Could you explain what the Association of Ecumenical Communities is and how it fits into the overall structure of the Sword of the Spirit? 
First of all to be clear, the overarching and primary identity we have is as the Sword of the Spirit itself, our community of communities. This is the main organizational entity and how we mainly represent who we are to others. Most importantly I think this is how the Lord relates to us as a body. Then within the Sword of the Spirit governmental structures there is a provision for associations to support and help meet the needs of special groups. Currently there are two such associations – one is Christ the King Association, which fosters the life of Roman Catholics in the Sword of the Spirit and the second is the Association of Ecumenical Communities (AEC), which aims to help in the development of the life of the ecumenical communities in the Sword of the Spirit.

I go to some pains to explain this because I find that often brothers and sisters can get confused on how it all fits together. Sometimes I’ll hear someone say, I am a member of Christ the King Association but not the Sword of the Spirit, or I am a member of the AEC but not the Sword of the Spirit. This is not possible given who we are. We are members first and foremost of the Sword of the Spirit and then secondarily members of the special associations.

It may also be helpful to point out that the Sword of the Spirit itself is an ecumenical community. It is not just those members who live in AEC communities who are called to be ecumenical, we are all called to be ecumenical although the way we express this may be different. The AEC is simply an association to help foster and support the life of our  ecumenical communities; it is not the sole repository or expression of our ecumenical call.

What do you see as the main challenges you’ll face in your new service as chairman of the Association of Ecumenical Communities?
Let me digress for a moment on this question. One thing I feel strongly about is that we talk too much about the challenges of ecumenism – the challenges, the difficulties, the issues. Without making light of these various points – and they are real enough – let me suggest a very different framework for thinking and talking about ecumenism. 

I believe instead of speaking so much of the challenges, we need to speak more of the beauty of the call, the privilege of the life, the joy of living out the unity that God has for us. This is more than just semantics: I think it is key to how we look at our ecumenical life. 

As an engineer I am trained to look at problems and challenges, dissect them and find solutions. So I am very comfortable with the language of challenge, difficulties and issues. As an engineer I am also a born pessimist, so it is easy for me to look at our ecumenical life and pick out any number of ‘impossible situations’– theological, organizational, practical, you name it.

Yet I am convinced that we need to do that which God has called us to and set before us and not attempt that which only He can achieve. Very simply, we are called to live an ecumenical life together and to do that well, with great charity, understanding and real love. This is something of great beauty in the Lord’s eyes. We are not called to sort out all the theological differences and organizational issues, that is God’s work and work that He is very capable of achieving and will achieve in His own time.

So our main challenge is a challenge of vision: do we see the beauty of the call and will we give ourselves to it? This is where I mainly want to serve and help lead us – to see and embrace the beauty of the call.

I’ve seen how focusing on the challenges can lead to what I call ‘ecumenical despair’ – we’ll never figure this out, we’ll never crack the nut, it’s too hard, etc. Focusing on the beauty of the call gives us hope to stand and do what God has called us to do.

How would you provide an apologetic or try to convince someone from your denomination that they should become engaged in an ecumenical community like the Sword of the Spirit?
I would make a very straightforward appeal to Scripture. In our denomination, as in most protestant denominations, we place a high emphasis on the authority of scripture. I believe the scriptures speak clearly of the value, the primacy that God places on unity in the Body of Christ. In John 17, Jesus speaks with simple eloquence of the vision God has for his Body, “may they all be one”. If we are serious as Christians and believe we need to obey his Word, this call to unity must be actively pursued.

Ideal unity involves both a theological unity but also a unity at the level of daily life and service. Sometimes denominations, including my own, can place too high a value on theological unity (admittedly important!) and too low a value on expressed unity – daily unity lived out in the trenches. Our mission is clearly to be a vibrant expression of the latter!

Two years ago I did an in-depth study on the life of the Apostle Paul. It was a very rewarding study and I felt like I came to understand the man more deeply.  It led me to think of what he would say if he was brought back today to experience the life of the modern church. What would be the first words out of his mouth? What would be the first thing he would get to work on? I believe he would take us all to task for the lack of expressed unity at the local level: why is the body broken before the eyes of the world? Who is working on this? I’m sure he would have plenty to say on various theological and moral issues as well but I think this would be his first point.

So I would seek to persuade people from my denomination that in living this life, in working for this unity we are aligned with scripture and indeed aligned with the very heart of God and his ultimate plan. In heaven there will only be one bride.

So what is your plan to help lead this area forward?
The most important thing in any service is to first find out what the Lord is doing and then go plow in that same field. So my immediate plan is to take a season to seek the Lord on how he would have me serve. Since I do not formally take responsibility as Chairman of the AEC till May, 2009 I have some time to do this. I also want to underline that there is a group of leaders, the executive council of the AEC, that serves alongside me. So it is also a priority to gather their thoughts and understandings of how to best serve so we can move forward in consensus. 

Having said all of that, the main avenues of service that I see at this time is a combination of strengthening what we have and pursuing new initiatives. The new initiatives could include increasing the external profile of our ecumenical call in the Sword of the Spirit, building new partnerships with other groups, even planting new ecumenical communities. Exactly how that mix works out is what we need to have the Lord’s wisdom on.

Paul Dinolfo (my predecessor as Chairman of the AEC) and the brothers serving with him have done an important work to get the structural and organization elements in place for the AEC. This will free me up to focus more on building upon those foundations. 

In closing what can we as members of the Sword of the Spirit do to strengthen and move forward our ecumenical call?
It’s a great question! Our ecumenical life and mission is a call for each of us, not just for me, not just for the members of the AEC executive committee or members of AEC communities. Every individual member of the Sword of the Spirit needs to make a personal commitment to support our ecumenical call. This will vary from member to member as to how they express this, but the commitment is critical. It can be easy to think of our ecumenical call as someone else’s responsibility.

One thing I would ask everyone to do is take a season of prayer to seek the Lord for this area, to become convinced of the ‘beauty of the call’ and to make an ongoing commitment to pray for our ecumenical unity. Beautiful things are often fragile; our ecumenical life is no exception and the attacks upon it can come on many levels. So we need to bathe our unity in prayer. This would be my main request, to please join me in prayer for this beautiful privilege we have been given to live out.
Dave Hughes is a coordinator of Word of Life Community in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA 
and Chairman of the Sword of the Spirit Assembly of Ecumenical Communities.

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