Disciples News Service

North American Ecumenists explore wider implications of ‘Commemoration’

submitted by Rev. Dr. Robert Welsh

The North American Academy of Ecumenists (NAAE) held its annual conference at the Candler School of Theology in Atlanta (Rev. Dr. Jan Love, Dean) in late September, meeting under the theme “‘Commemorating’ the Reformation: Churches Looking Together Toward 2017 – and Beyond.” Through presentations and conversations, about forty members of the Academy sought to probe the ecumenical significance of the 500th anniversary of the European reformations by asking what Christians have learned from those challenging events, and how the churches might use the anniversary to recommit themselves to harvesting the fruits – and “baking the bread” – of the ecumenical movement.

The speakers focused on the complex task of remembering and moving forward. Lutheran theologian Rev. Dr William Rusch reminded the group that the work of “commemorating” is a work in progress. Msgr. John Radano spoke on the lessons learned from 1517 as tools for shaping the future. Another Roman Catholic theologian, Dr. Catherine Clifford, challenged us to claim our inheritance – whether Catholic or Protestant – as a resource for moving forward together. Dr. Patrick Henry suggested that Christians must practice “creative remembering and prudent forgetting” in learning from our past, and moving into our ecumenical future.

There was also a clear emphasis on the fact that the commemoration of 1517 is not just for Catholics and Lutherans, but for all Christians. “What’s in it for us?” asked Dr. Robert Welsh, surveying responses to the “Commemoration” of the Reformation from many Christian World Communions. Several speakers urged the group to consider the joint text From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran Catholic Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017 (PCPCU and the LWF) as applicable to all churches.

The four prayer services during the event moved worshipers from repentance to reconciliation, to renewal, and finally to “Re-Catholicizing, Re-Evangelizing, Re-Forming” for the future.

A panel of prominent Atlanta-area church leaders and ecumenical practitioners, gathered by Candler Professor Emeritus Dr. Don Saliers, spoke of the passion, promises and challenges of their work in liturgy, musicianship, outreach, oversight, and ecumenical leadership.

Next year’s NAAE conference will take place in Boston, MA, 22-24 September, on the theme of worship as it has unfolded over one hundred years of Christians learning from and experiencing one another’s liturgical life.


Papers Presented:

  • Catherine Clifford, “Re-Membering for a Common Future”
  • Patrick Henry, “Creative Remembering – and Prudent Forgetting – On the Way to Christian Unity”
  • John Radano, “Our Ecumenical Future: Lessons Learned from 1517”
  • William Rusch, “‘Commemorating’ 2017: A Work in Progress”
  • Robert Welsh, “What’s in it for the Rest of Us? Perspectives on 2017 from the Christian World Communions”

For more information about the presentations, please e-mail Dr. Welsh.