Oberlin Faith and Order Conference

So I just got back on Monday night from the meeting of the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches at Oberlin, celebrating 50 years since the inaugural meeting of Faith and Order at Oberlin in 1957. There were around 300 people there, a healthy mix of pastors, theologians, seminary students, theology students, assorted hangers-on (I count myself in that last category...). I'm currently trying to write something up about the experience, and if no one else wants to publish it (!), I'll be putting it on here. If you want to learn more about the Faith and Order movement in the U.S., or to look at some of their online journals, their website is here.

One of the smarter moves the planning committee made was to fund the travel and attendance of about 100 students and younger theologians, which was a good way of involving lots of us who are deeply concerned about ecumenism, but often find it hard to break into a conversation that has been going on for a long time, and some of whose leading lights are still with us, serving the cause. Plus, for many of us who sometimes find ourselves somewhat isolated from our colleagues -- either because our churches or departments think ecumenism is a betrayal of our identity, as happens in some cases, or because ecumenism seems passé and not as sexy as other work like interreligious dialogue, as in the case in other places -- it was a great chance to get some refreshment of soul and body, and geek out with some of our fellow ecumenists.

You can see from the schedule and the abstracts of papers just how interesting, powerful, and challenging many of our topics for discussion were, but the theme of the entire session was "Being Christian Together." For me, the highlight of this came in a strange place. The last night of our sessions together, after sitting around having a drink and, even after 4 days of talking, still talking about our lives, our churches, our hopes for the future, the bar closed down and we had a short walk across the common in downtown Oberlin to the dorms in which we were staying. An Episcopal postulant whom I'm now happy to call a friend pulled out a pack of cigarettes, and a group of us, mostly not regular smokers, suddenly felt the call of the Spirit. So there we were -- an Episcopalian, a Roman Catholic, a United Church of Christ ecumenist, an Orthodox theologian, and a Mennonite, heading across the common, sharing a smoke and a laugh at how unexpected the future of ecumenism might look to our ecumenical forebears, heading back for a night of rest. Being Christian together.

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