Ecumenical Dialogue as a Ministry of Reconciliation
By John A. Lapp
Executive Secretary Emeritus
Mennonite Central Committee
What the church needs most are Catholics (Mennonites) who want to be Catholics (Mennonites), who know what that means, and who seek the grace to become true disciples of Christ.
Kenneth L. Woodward, “Benedict XVI,”
Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2005, p. A-16.
The church cannot escape the question of reconciliation because the fault-line of violence runs right through the church itself….
A church can regain some of its legitimacy by seeking reconciliation within itself as a model for what will be needed in the larger society.
Robert J. Schreiter (1992, p. 13, 67)
If true to its Lord and its calling, the church is as such always a community on the lookout for walls to breach, for enemies to befriend … with each other and with God. With respect to a reconciling and re-creating God, God’s home is never big enough, better yet, God’s family is never big enough…. God’s home is permanently under construction.
Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld (2002, p. 134).
It is a special privilege to participate in this Mennonite/Catholic Theological colloquium. I have read with much interest reports of the meetings of Bridgefolk. I applaud the energy and fresh thinking you bring to this engagement. I pray that these meetings this week will nurture the reconciliation we long for.
I do not bring expertise or extensive experience to ecumenical dialogue. I consider myself an encourager and strong supporter of expanding and deepening relationships between churches. As teacher and administrator I have tried to gain understanding by considering issues from the other’s point of view. I have much to learn about the processes necessary for the journey towards reconciliation. I am grateful the Mennonite Church USA is considering joining Roman Catholics and many Protestant churches in the newly formed Christian Churches Together (CCT)
Gerald gave me a substantial assignment for this evening. Based on my observations he says, “What is the relationship between grassroots collaboration between Mennonites and other Christian communions–Catholics the case in point and scholarly theological reflections?” And secondly, “How might Mennonites name a theological basis for ecumenism “which he then pointedly connected to our tradition of “practicing ministries of reconciliation.” I look forward to your answering these pertinent, provocative and urgent questions by tomorrow afternoon.
Gerald provided a thoughtful and theologically correct title. If we needed a more catchy one I might entitle these remarks “Why is it cool to be a Mennonite at Marquette” or “Never so close to God as at Camp Hebron.”
I decided to begin autobiographically as an exercise in “healing of memories.” Secondly I want to highlight some marks or signposts that are occasions for gratitude in building new relationships. Thirdly a few words on the gospel of reconciliation as providing the imperative and the framework for ecumenical conversation.
I. Toward a Healing of Memories
The healing of memories involves several aspects. It requires a purification of memories so that both groups can share a picture of the past that is historically accurate. This calls for a spirit of repentance–a penitential spirit–on both sides for the harm that the conflicts have done to the body of Christ, to the proclamation of the Gospel, and to one another. Healing the memories of divided Christians also entails the recognition that, despite conflict, and though still separated, they continue to hold in common much of the Christian faith. In this sense they remain linked to one another. Moreover a healing of memories involves the openness to move beyond the isolation of the past, and to consider concrete steps toward new relations. Together, these factors can contribute to reconciliation between divided Christians.
Called Together To Be Peacemakers, (2004, #191, p. 43)
I am so appreciative that our friends who participated in stage one of the Catholic/Mennonite Dialogue 1998-2003 understood and highlighted the necessity of dealing with the past forthrightly with “a penitential spirit.” When I observed one session (the last) which met in Akron I was moved by the reverance and seriousness by which they engaged this process.
I suspect everyone of us has memories which require naming and healing when we consider the estrangement of Christian churches one from another.
I have lived the journey Mennonites have been on discovering Catholics as sisters and brothers in Christ during the past 50 years. As a boy and young adult prejudices against Catholics were a conspicuous part of our culture. I watched in elementary school the taunting of the three Catholic classmates who went to Saturday church school at St. Stanislaus Church in Lansdale since they could not attend the daily parochial school. I now realize the history of the U.S. and the world I was taught in elementary and high school was deeply biased against Catholics. The religious dimension of British-Spanish and British-French rivalry and conflict was reported matter-of-factly. Discrimination against Catholic participation in public life well into the twentieth century was ignored by both teachers and textbooks. I learned prejudices from the comments of preachers and teachers in simplistic talk about Mennonite history in a separatist manner. I recall that one of the first serious but bad books I purchased (apart from college textbooks) was Paul Blanchard’s Communism, Democracy, and Catholic Power (1951).
Lest this appear as idiocycratically personal I remind you that the church member profile based on questioning more than 3000 of us in 1972 concluded that “anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic prejudice among the members in the present study is as great as or greater than that revealed among Lutherans and others in similar studies.” (Kauffman and Harder, Anabaptists Four Centuries Later (1975 p. 252).
More amusing, however, tragic, is James Mitchener’s Report of the County Chairman (1961) reporting on 1960 elections in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, less than fifteen miles from where I grew up. He notes how twice as many Republicans registered to vote that year as normal. One of Mitchener’s precinct workers interpreted this as meaning “the Mennonites have allowed their women to register again”.Last time they voted in Bucks County was in 1928 when Al Smith ran. The churches demanded that they vote against a Catholic.” (p. 81). My Bishop father, who never voted, always insisted it was members from the other Mennonite conference!
I regret this part of my past, the Mennonite past and too much of the American and Canadian past. I thank God that truth cannot be forever squelched. I thank God for teachers who taught an alternative history. I thank God for the movement of God’s spirit among Mennonites that enables us to repudiate the distortions of our past and leads us to moments like this week.
In my own case transformation began in the 1950s becoming friends with other Catholic employees at Ralph’s Supermarket in Lansdale. Books have played an important role for me, like Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Riddle of Roman Catholicism (1959). Blanchard is long gone but Pelikan continues to have an honored place on my shelves. Now I read as many Catholic authors as Mennonite. I have long been a fan of Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and the novelist Morris West.
Here at EMU as a faculty member in the 1960s we hosted the Catholic Capuchin Prior from nearby Staunton as a way of connecting with the spiritual environment surrounding Menno Simons. The Capuchins were a reforming Franciscan group that emerged in the early 16th century. Shortly thereafter inspired by the witness of Thomas Merton, a group of us spent a weekend in the monastery at Berryville to experience the worship rhythm of the Trappists.
Particularly at Mennonite Central Committee I became part of an agency which since World War II has worked with Catholic Relief Services and the Pontifical Mission in Palestine overseas. In the 1960s and 1970s we shared many concerns and frequently consulted with Catholic Peace Fellowship for conscientious objection to military service.
On my orientation trip to Africa in 1985 I learned how MCC teachers were integral to Catholic schools in Malawi. I also met two Catholic workers, Carl Yusavitch and Mary Taney, with MCC on a risky assignment in Southern Sudan. Carl, a former priest was now married to Mary who was from my home town of Lansdale. Together we celebrated the overcoming of the alienation, at least among ourselves, that long separated Mennonite and Catholics locally and globally. One of the richest parts of my MCC years were the connections and learnings from ecumenical Christians within MCC and beyond MCC.
Ten days ago I was asked to fill in the pulpit at my congregation as our pastors attended the bi-annual conference of the Mennonite Church USA and Canada. I decided to try some thoughts for this paper which I entitled “What does it Mean to say ‘I Believe in the Holy Catholic Church’?” I was pleasantly surprised by the considerable enthusiasm the congregation of 125 expressed.
Mennonites especially in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where I now live, have a long history of rigid separation from other Christian groups. Sometimes we separate ourselves from one another. That Sunday I focused on the Pauline understanding of the church as the new humanity as the letter to the Ephesians expresses it. I observed how for 50 years our congregations meeting place in Lititz was across the corner from the Catholic Church. During these years there was virtually no interaction. The Catholic Church now has a newer structure a mile across the town. I read from Ian Torrance’s address to the graduating class at Princeton Seminary two months ago: “Don’t forget that Christianity is not one single answer but many traditions.” I complemented the many inter-church connections our congregation has through the Ministerium and the community wide services they sponsor, through Church Women United and the World Day of Prayer, through a cooperative youth ministry and a host of other individual relationships. Groups of Mennonite and Catholic women in Lititz have prayed and studied the Scriptures together for decades.
I then recalled the story of how in 1978 the Catholic priest from across the street broke the separation and joined our Pastor Jacob Frederick officiating at the marriage of Frederick’s son with a young Catholic women from Philadelphia. Since then young Frederick, at that time not a church member, joined the Catholic Parish in Philadelphia.
I also told the story little realized in the congregation that an esteemed member , former Deacon and the largest business owner in our congregation has in retirement become a spiritual director. His own spiritual director is from the local Convent of Sisters of the Precious Blood. He tells a moving story how he admitted to his spiritual director his shame that it has taken him 75 years to discover her rich spiritual tradition. She also observed how much she missed in not having access to the Mennonite tradition of faith and discipleship.
I learned another new story that morning which explains much about what we were once like. The farm families of Lancaster County have long hosted fresh air children from New York City for two weeks every summer. As was frequently the case, many of these children were Catholic. An older woman told how 40 years ago she refused to take her guest child to the Catholic Church which the child wanted to attend. Rather she forced her to come along to the Mennonite Church. The child, bound not to be evangelized, put plugs in her ears!
In contrast, three weeks ago I met my grandson from New York State at Mennonite Camp Hebron at the end of “Ruff It” week. He brought along to camp his Catholic friend Michael. Michael’s mother asked him that evening if he was homesick any time during the week. “No one was, ” Michael said,” and I never have felt so close to God.” His mother wonders if this might be the beginning of a trajectory towards the priesthood!
II. Signposts of Reconciliation.
Locally as well, in several parts of the world, some Catholics and Mennonites already engaged with each other in theological dialogue and in practical cooperation. In various places collaboration between the Mennonite Central Committee and Caritas or Catholic Relief Services is taking place in humanitarian causes. We hear of Mennonites working with Catholics in the USA, in the Middle East, and in India, to name but a few examples. And even though numerous local Catholic-Mennonite initiatives are unofficial and personal, they serve the wider church by helping to overcome false caricatures about and mutual prejudices of each other.
Called Together to Be Peacemakers (#213, p. 47).
John De Gruchy, the South African theologian has one of the best studies available on reconciliation. He observes that reconciliation is “an action, praxis, and movement, something celebrated before it is explained (2002, p. 21). Such actions become “signposts” marking the emergence of a new reality.
Robert Schreiter, the Catholic missiologist says much the same thing. “We are not saved by universal concepts, but through symbols that invite us to participation in their meanings” (1992, p. 48). Both De Gruchy and Schreiter emphasize that reconciliation, Pauline style, take us to a new place based on a new narrative.
Reconciliation, De Gruchy says, “refers to a way of life in which Christians are called in the world, sharing in God’s work of reconciliation.” This includes “ethical transformation,” breaking down the walls of enmity, “creating the conditions on which harmonious relations can be established.” (2002, p. 55).
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a powerful treatise on the creation of a new humanity through God’s work in Christ. The theological treatment reaches a climax at the beginning of Chapter four. “Therefore”make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” which is immediately followed by seven marks or bonds of unity. I like Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of verse 25. “In Christ’s body we are all connected to each other.” These texts are a primary reason for our being here these days.
Gerald suggested I might give an overview of the signposts of reconciliation between Mennonites and other Christian groups. Once I started looking just for Mennonites and Catholics I was overwhelmed. Many of you could surely add to the anecdotal evidence I have amassed. Using the word anecdotal does not mean the information is not authentic. It simply means that each item I mention has a history, a context and includes a variety of people I cannot include. My referencing–to the degree I know about them–is all positive. There have been blunders and failures to be sure. I just did not try to find them. Two books I list in the short bibliography are rich compendiums of stories. Baum and Wells have many churches involved in their accounts; Sampson and Lederach have lots of Mennonite stories with some analysis as well.
The most important signposts in the journey toward reconciliation are the formal meetings where Catholics and Mennonites learn to know each other in deeper and fuller ways. I am so grateful that Vatican II and papal leadership since then have made ecumenical relations such a high priority. Their insistence and their know-how has made it easier for hesitant groups to respond positively to their invitations.
I am also grateful that Mennonite World Conference under the leadership of Larry Miller was prepared to enter a process of exploration and relationship building. Gerhard Lohfink eloquently observes that “God does not act at any and every moment, but at a particular time.” (1999, p. VIII). Larry not only sensed God’s timing but also understood that the time for Mennonites was also right. Dutch and German Mennonites have long involvement in ecumenical activity. Now North Americans are developing a sense of calling as well.
In this regard the emergence of Bridgefolk represents a less formal learning community which complements, supplements, and supports the organized bodies. I am not aware of the several places where more local and regional bodies are engaging each other. In Colombia, South America the Mennonite Church is in formal conversations with three Catholic dioceses focusing on church-state relations.
The important thing is not that these encounters are always very productive in terms of action. There can be no reconciliation without relationships. So worship together, prayer for each other, celebrating the gift of reconciliation God has graciously given us, eating and singing together, are all ingredients of reconciled and reconciling people. I like the words of the community of St. Egidio to Bridgefolk: “proceed through friendship.”
Now I want to highlight six arenas where the signposts of reconciliation are conspicuous.
Spirituality and Worship:
I have already mentioned a spiritual director from my congregation who has a Catholic spiritual director. I don’t know how many times that is being multiplied. I do know that a steady stream of Mennonites are learning the art and skill of spiritual direction at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, at Ignatius College in Guelph, Ontario, and surely at other places. Catholic resource persons are a continuing presence at retreats held at the Jesuit Center near Reading.
A number of Mennonite have studied liturgy and worship with Catholic teachers or in Catholic institutions.
I suspect one of the secrets of Mennonite/Catholic rapprochement has been the influence of the charismatic movement. One retired Latin American missionary highly critical of the Catholic church dramatically changed his outlook after participating in rallies at Notre Dame. This influence has opened doors for the influence of a spirituality that continues to enrich Mennonites. I trust Catholics as well.
One friend of many of us, Susan Claasen, began working with Catholic sisters in El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. After the stresses of Central America she spent more than five months at the Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse in Kentucky. In her MCC Occasional Paper (2003) entitled “A Spirituality of Service” she described how that community helped overcome her sense of a demanding God with a fresh understanding of “the unconditional character of God’s love.” The Mennonite spiritual tradition of humility and compassion was enriched by a similar but different Catholic tradition.
It wasn’t always so reconciling! One evening in the early 1970s President Lawrence Burkholder, his wife Harriet, my wife Alice and I attended a Goshen College vs. Notre Dame soccer game at Notre Dame. Those were Goshen’s soccer glory days. Notre Dame’s soccer skills were still developing. It is now a nationally rated team. That October evening Goshen prevailed, much to the embarrassment of Notre Dame’s coach. The behaviors on both sides weren’t very nice.
Actually Goshen and Notre Dame had warm relationships in the 1970s and 1980s. Father Ted and Larry Burkholder had high mutual regard. Hesburgh gave a commencement address at Goshen. Provost Jim Burchaell and I traveled to Indiana College and University meetings on a number of occasions. We shared or borrowed faculty from each other. Goshen students and faculty exploited Notre Dame’s services and academic programs in numerous ways. This growing sense of mutuality can also be said for Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. Beginning with John H. Yoder, there continues to be a small nuclei of Mennonite faculty at Notre Dame.
There have been numerous Mennonite and Catholic students on each other’s campuses. I learned several weeks ago that the Catholic chaplain at Harvard Jacquelilne Landry is an EMU graduate. One of Lawrence Burkholder’s favorite students at Harvard is the well known social ethicist J. Bryan Hehir. Mennonite and Catholic professors have been on each other’s campuses for many years.
One significant signpost is in Paris, France, where the Chateney congregation has regular conversations with a neighboring Catholic parish. One of the Chateney pastors, Neal Blough, teaches a Radical Reformation course at two Catholic facilities.
Paul Heidbrecht is studying theological Ethics at Marquette with Prof. Michael Duffy. Prof. Duffy was a student of Mennonite John Howard Yoder at Notre Dame. Paul says that in the theology department at Marquette “It’s cool to be a Mennonite.”
I don’t know how to measure the theological impact of Catholic and Mennonite writings and teachers on each other’s traditions. During my lifetime it has been enormous and notably reconciling.
This may seem to be a strange signpost of reconciliation. I thought it was significant that the Catholic church/Cathedral in Mogadishio, Somalia provided meeting space for a small Mennonite congregation in the 1970s and 1980s.
Mennonites have often met on Catholic turf like Techney Towers in North Chicago. Mennonites in Africa and Asia often use Catholic facilities for retreats and workshops. Two months ago EMU hosted an east coast meeting of Focolare, a Catholic movement promoting the lifestyle and “spirituality of unity.’
Across the continent last winter the very large Reedly, California, Mennonite Brethren Congregation offered their facilities for the funeral and remembrance service of a young Catholic soldier killed Iraq. The Catholic church was too small for the large crowd. Pastor Dennis Fast joined the priest in conducting the service.
The way we use our facilities can also nurture reconciliation.
Mennonite Central Committee:
I, of course, know most about MCC although I am not as current as I might be. MCC’s history of relationships with Catholics goes back to the cooperative relief efforts in Europe post World War II. That was primarily organizational with Catholic Relief Services. On the ground cooperation with CRS and the Pontifical Mission to Palestine began in the 1950s in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Amman, Jordan. As recently as this summer MCC assisted the librarian of the Pontifical Mission in Amman to attend the peace building workshop here at EMU and provided food and medicines for distribution to Iraqi refugees in Jordan.
Through the years MCC workers and Catholic workers mingled freely. Mennonite teachers served in Christian Brothers Bethlehem University, the Latin School in Zebadah near Nablus, the institutions in Ibellin. Teachers and workers served under the direction of priests in all these places as well as in Gaza.
For many years Latin Catholic Palestinians Ibrahim Matar and Yaub Amir (Muktar of the Latin Quarter of Old City Jerusalem) administered MCCs extensive agricultural development program in the West Bank.
Other places of close cooperation have been in India with Mother Theresa in Calcutta and Father Wendy in Andra Pradesh. The Bangladeshis who assumed leadership of MCC program were almost all Catholics. Dom Helder Camera in Northeast Brazil was a close friend of MCC. In Bolivia Mennonites, Methodists, and Maryknollers were known as the 3 Ms. MCC continues to have placements in a number of Catholic parishes in Central America. MCC also has personnel at the Catholic/ Protestant student center in Chiapas, Mexico. In the Philippines MCC cooperated with a variety of Catholics. I joined local MCC staff in visiting and complimenting Cardinal Sin shortly after the “people power” transition of 1986. From 1996 to 2004 the Philippines MCC program was directed by a Catholic Sister, Christina Vertucci. After that she represented MCC in East Timor. Gerald Schlabach could tell us much more about his, Joetta’s, and Susan Classen and other’s intensive work with local churches especially in El Salvador and Nicaragua. One of my tasks as Executive Secretary was to interpret these relationships to other Mennonite groups in Central America who did not see such cooperation as integral to their own work or for MCC.
At this moment Catholics and Mennonites are major players in the Inter-Congolese Peace Dialogue and the Mindinao Peacebuilding Institute.
A fascinating MCC peace placement currently is Peter Dula, a recent Duke Divinity graduate, who is teaching at Babel College of Philosophy and Theology in Baghdad. This is a training institution for priests and teachers sponsored by Chaldean Catholics. Peter is in and out of Baghdad depending on the security situation.
A number of Catholics have participated in Christian Peacemaker Teams. Particularly notable is the service of Anne Montgomery in Hebron, Palestine, and also in Baghdad.
For decades MCC and Catholic Peace Fellowship served together on the National Inter-religious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors in Washington. Through those connections a warm friendship developed between my predecessor William Snyder and Richard McSorley, S.J., a chaplain at Georgetown University. Bill Snyder arranged to have McSorley’s valuable book The New Testament Basis of Peacemaking published by Herald Press in the early 1970s. This was surely one of the first Catholic authors to be published by a Mennonite press.
I have in hand a new magazine Peacebuilder published here at EMU by the Center for Peace and Peace building. In a quick read I noted that dozens of Catholic students from around the world have enrolled in one or more CJP programs. There are also a number of Catholic faculty who are experts in various dimensions of the dynamic discipline. Incidentally, the founding director of CJP was John Paul Lederach who is now Professor of International Peace building at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute.
One of the finest signs of reconciliation is the Catholic-Presbyterian Mediation Network begun in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1970. This network directed by Catholic Brendan McAllister with Presbyterian Joe Campbell as a lead negotiator, provides “dispute resolution specific to the culture of Northern Ireland.” I mention this here since Mennonite resources were important in initiating the network. A number of the CJP staff here were very instrumental in generating a local vision and training mediators.
This project has been strongly supported by the cooperative research and writing on “Sectarianism” by Catholic Cecilia Clegy and Mennonite Joe Liechty, formerly a worker and doctoral student in Ireland.
This is surely an incomplete overview. There have been congregational exchanges between Catholics and Mennonites. On occasion Catholic leaders like the Theologian Yves Congar have addressed Mennonite assemblies and workshops. I wish we knew more about Mennonite-Catholic marriages. We have one such couple in our congregation as do a number of neighboring congregations. It is worth remembering that neither Catholics nor Mennonites looked favorably on inter-marriage several decades ago. There has also been considerable movement of membership between our groups which is well known in Bridgefolk. We are at an early stage of shared membership. There is much that could be said about mutual learnings in theology ,church history, ethics, missiology and Christian nurture. I would be remiss in not observing the essential contribution of such interlocutors as Ivan and Lois Kauffman and Gerald Stover in building bridges of understanding.
The Called Together document suggests these experiences of cooperative work, signposts of reconciliation help “to overcome false caricatures about and mutual prejudices of each other.”
I conclude this overview of working together with Heidi Regier Krieder’s report in the July 5, 2005, Mennonite on the cooperative work of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Newton with Bethel College Mennonite Church regarding the needs of new immigrants. Heidi reports that “we discovered a lot of common ground with the Catholics in terms of how we relate to marginalized people in just ways.”
I invite you to add to this litany and to join my in thanking God for these signposts of reconciliation.
III. “An Eye to Reconciliation”
To whom and wherein shall the separated churches convert? To God and God’s will, that is, to the historical plan God has for the world”. It is the will of God to have a people in the world so that one can clearly see, by looking at that people, how God proposes that human society should be, so that the world can see the unanimity and peace that is possible in such a people and thus come to peace for itself. It is the will of God to lead the whole world to liberation and redemption through the redemption and liberation that happens to one people.
Gerhard Lohfink (1999, p. 302)
Restorying as imaginative narrative looks for the deeper social story and meaning, not just of what happened, but how stories are connected to a far more profound journey of discovering what these events mean for who we are as both local and global communities.
John Paul Lederach (2005, p. 147)
Gerhard Lohfink ends his opus Does God Need the Church? observing that “the church stands face to face with a new ‘today’.” (p. 309). He notes that never before has the church had as clear an understanding of what God intends it to be and conversely insights as to the ‘why’ of its many failures.
The Christian Century recently editorialized (April 19, p. 5) that in order for sharp disputes to be addressed there must be “an eye to reconciliation.” So too within and between churches. I hope my personal story and the accounting of reconciling events involving Mennonites and Catholics confirm this” new today”. This today is far more extensive and profound than what I had expected or am able to describe. Yet this today is also very temporal and very fragile. In the words of Ephraim Radner:
The coherence that our history as a Christian community ought to provide such pictures–the witness to the lordship of Christ that holds together scripture, time, and Christian faith–has been lost; and the commodified culture of the Christian market in America is perhaps the nadir of such privation. (2004, p. 174).
But we must revel in hope and possibility, not despair which Radner says “is the great vice of modern Christianity.” (p. 9). It seems to me those involved in the Catholic/Mennonite dialogue have it right: our memories are being healed in hundreds of local cooperative activities and even more than in formal conversations. DeGruchy and Lederach might say it is this restorying which provides the material for reflection and theorizing.
Schreiter, DeGruchy, and Lohfink all point to reconciliation as God’s singular purpose. That purpose is at the center of Christ’s life and teachings. It is integral to the multi-faceted ministry of the body of Christ. The fragmentation of the church in Lohfink’s words “is rather like a broken mirror that distorts the image of Christ.” (p. 298). It is a primary cause of too frequent ineffectualness.
Reconciliation is an enormously rich concept and process. Robert Schreiter, missiologist that he is, highlights “overcoming suffering caused by violence as the first step in the process of reconciliation” (p. 41). At this moment in history Mennonites and Catholics are not involved in any overt violence against each other. But our sisters and brothers–both Catholic and Mennonite–are in many places victimized by violence. Our conversations with each other must carefully and forthrightly address this suffering. The gospel of reconciliation can only address issues of church unity if we deal with the wounded in our churches and our world. We will have greater credibility addressing these wounds if we can demonstrate the wholeness of Christ in the church in our life together.
What then should we do? I can only be suggestive. You need to help with more specifics.
1. Called to Be Peacemakers has nineteen paragraphs entitled “Areas for Future Study.” They include even more on points of divergence and four on “Improving Our Relationships.”
This formal dialogue and the work of Bridgefolk have already demonstrated that Catholics and Mennonites can view each other in complimentary ways and have things to teach each other.
One place to begin might be for Bridgefolk, in consultation with the Pontifical Council and MWC, to choose several issues for serious exploration as a means of demonstrating what could be done and how to do it in a fruitful manner.
2. What seems to me to be the special need of the moment is not further scriptural study per se or historical analysis per se. Rather what is needed is a strong public voice from our established church bodies that both Catholics and Mennonites are serious about issues of church unity. And secondly our congregations and representational agencies need strategies for making unity integral to their (our) ministry. This colloquium could set itself to design a small handbook providing new inter-church activities along with how to do it practices. These counsels should be modest in intent but rooted in what DeGruchy calls “the ‘grand narrative’ of redemption.” (p. 47). Lohfink would add that this grand narrative in the Scriptures “never took place according to a model. It was always the Spirit of God who brought about new initiatives in the church.” (VIII).
3. I doubt that organizational unity should be a primary focus. Rather as the reconciled body of Christ we need to continually ask whether we are “zealous to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond( chains) of peace.” (Eph. 4:3) If we are zealous we need to act. We should publicly affirm the integrity of each other’s tradition. We should expect each of our congregations and agencies to implement a” bias for cooperation” in order to overcome the competitive spirit of the marketplace. We ought to include awareness and understanding of each other, as well as mutuality and respect, as essential ingredients of church sponsored education especially that of pastors and priests. We should urge various local and regional jurisdictions to conduct workshops for laity and clergy together in order to nurture ecumenical thinking and commitment. Seminaries and other leadership groupings could help each other and the entire body through regular consultation on such common concerns as evangelism, worship, church planting, inter-faith conversation, Christian nurture, understanding and media driven secular culture and how to be instruments of God’s peace. Both Catholics and Mennonites, particularly in North America, share the common agenda of learning to be a global church since the vast majority of both of our communions are now in the global South.
4. One of the first words of Jesus to the Apostles was the call to repent. Neither of our traditions and none of us individually can approach the ministry of reconciliation without an awareness of our failures. All too frequently we have failed to act as if “we are members one of another.” We have on occasion been overtly hostile.
We all know this. There is some pain in what we are about. Neither will it be easy, overcoming centuries of disagreement and separation, overcoming a well entrenched culture of separatism will require study, prayer, confession, debate, patience, and forbearance. Jesus showed us the way. Schreiter put it well: “What under girds every successful process of reconciliation is a spirituality, a view of the world that recognized and responds to God’s reconciling action in the world.” (1992, p. 60)
This spirituality is so well captured in Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Ephesians 1:11, “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.” May God help us.
Augsburger, Myron, The Robe of God: Reconciliation, the Believers Church Essential. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2000.
Baum, Gregory & Harold Wells (eds.), The Reconciliation of Peoples: Challenge to the Churches, Maryknoll, N.Y. & Geneva: Orbis Books & WCC. 1997.
Blough, Neal, “The Church as Sign or Sacrament: Trinitarian Ecclesiology, Pilgrim Marpeck, Vatican II and John Milbank, Mennonite Quarterly Review, LXXVIII # 1, January 2004. 29-52.
Called Together To Be Peacemakers. Report of the International Dialogue between The Catholic Church and the Mennonite World Conference, 1998-2003.
DeGruchy, John W. Reconciliation: Restoring Justice. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.
Gros, Jeffrey & John D. Rempel, The Fragmentation of the Church and Its Unity in Peacemaking. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001.
Gwyn, Douglas, et al. A Declaration on Peace: In God’s People the World’s Renewal Has Begun. Scottdale, PA & Waterloo IB, Herald Press, 1991.
Lederach, John Paul, The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Lohfink, Gerhard. Does God Need the Church? Toward a Theology of the People of God. Collegeville , MN. The Liturgical Press, 1999.
Radner, Ephraim. Hope Among the Fragments: The Broken Church and Its Engagement of Scripture. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2004.
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