DIALOGUE – MEOR Director Participates in Opening of Synod on Synodality

The Rev. Matthew A. Laferty, director of the Methodist Ecumenical Office Rome, was one of three fraternal delegates (i.e., delegates from non-Catholic churches) to participate in the opening of the Synod of Bishops on 9-10 October in the Vatican City State. In this historic moment, Pope Francis is leading an intentional, worldwide effort to reshape the Roman Catholic Church into a listening church which is discerning the Holy Spirit’s leading for the future.

According to prepartory documents:

‘Synod’ is an ancient and venerable word in the Tradition of the Church, whose meaning draws on the deepest themes of Revelation […] It indicates the path along which the People of God walk together. Equally, it refers to the Lord Jesus, who presents Himself as ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (Jn 14,6), and to the fact that Christians, His followers, were originally called ‘followers of the Way’ (cf. Acts 9,2; 19,9.23; 22,4; 24,14.22).

First and foremost, synodality denotes the particular style that qualifies the life and mission of the Church, expressing her nature as the People of God journeying together and gathering in assembly, summoned by the Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel. Synodality ought to be expressed in the Church’s ordinary way of living and working.

Vademecum for the Synod on Synodality, §1.2

The opening of the synod launches a two-year process to cultivate a synodal church that “walks forward in communion to pursue a common mission through the participation of each and every one of her members. The objective of this Synodal Process is not to provide a temporary or one-time experience of synodality, but rather to provide an opportunity for the entire People of God to discern together how to move forward on the path towards being a more synodal Church in the long-term” (§1.3).

During the small group meetings, Rev. Laferty was able to share about Methodist theologies of the Holy Spirit, priesthood of all believers, Christian conferencing, and the role of laity.

Pope Francis in his homily for the Mass opening the synodal process called the Catholic church to encounter, listen, and discern. He said, “Celebrating a Synod means walking on the same road, walking together.  Let us look at Jesus.  First, he encounters the rich man on the road; he then listens to his questions, and finally he helps him discern what he must do to inherit eternal life.  Encounter, listen and discern.” He went on to say, “The Spirit asks us to listen to the questions, concerns and hopes of every Church, people and nation.  And to listen to the world, to the challenges and changes that it sets before us.  Let us not soundproof our hearts; let us not remain barricaded in our certainties.  So often our certainties can make us closed.  Let us listen to one another.” In further reflection, he said, “[the word of God] summons us to discernment and it brings light to that process.  It guides the Synod, preventing it from becoming a Church convention, a study group or a political gathering, a parliament, but rather a grace-filled event, a process of healing guided by the Spirit.”

Go to www.synod.va to learn about the synodal process.

Photo credit: Matthew Laferty, 9 October 2021

ENCOUNTER – Methodists Participate in Sant’Egidio International Peace Conference on Fraternity and Ecology

Several Methodists attended the Sant’Egidio international interreligious peace conference in Rome that focused this year on human fraternity and ecology. Pictured left to right: Fr. Rolando Curzi from the Sant’Egidio Community, Revd Mirella Manocchio from the Methodist Churches in Italy, Revd Leao Neto from the World Methodist Council, and Rev. Matthew A. Laferty from the Methodist Ecumenical Office Rome.

Speakers for the conference included Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Moderna founder Noubar Afeyan, former chief rabbi David Rosen, and UAE minister of tolerance and coexistence Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan.

The closing ceremony was held at the Coloseum in Rome with speeches from German chancellor Angela Merkel and Pope Francis.

NEWS – World Methodist Conference in August 2022 Postponed

Due to the continuing challenging times from the COVID-19 Pandemic, the 22nd World Methodist Conference is further postponed. At the two-day virtual meeting of the World Methodist Council Steering Committee in August 2021, the Steering Committee unanimously agreed that the global WMC family could not safely gather in Gothenburg, Sweden, in August 2022 for the Conference.

WMC President J.C. Park announced that a new date for the Conference will be set in spring 2022. Conference Program Chair the Rev. Dr. Martyn Atkins and members of the host committee including Bishop Christian Alstead, Uniting Church President Lasse Svensson, and others were consulted abou the postponement. Everyone agreed that a more meaningful Conference could be held at a later date.

On the Move will continue to be the theme, and the issues of migration, justice, and hospitality are evident to be more pertinent now than when the theme was initially chosen.

More information on the Conference will be published as available in WMC First Friday Letter, on the Council and Conference websites, and Twitter.

Photo: Gothenburg, Sweden, photo in public domain.

COMMENTARY – Dialogue as a Tool for Unity and Mission

By the Reverend Matthew A. Laferty

The Feast of Peter and Paul on June 29th is a major affair here in Rome. Both Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome, and their tombs remain to this day important pilgrimage sites. Many representations and icons of the two saints exist, but the Eastern Orthodox icon of Peter and Paul meeting and holding each other in embrace remains for me the most powerful. In Rome this icon of the two saints in embrace is an important symbol for the ecumenical movement and holds a prominent place of viewing in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Vatican’s ecumenical department. The icon reflects the deep longing and love for one another and the reconciliation with God and each other found through Christ; it too reminds us that as contemporary followers of Jesus Christ that each of us embodies both elements of Peter and Paul in our lives.

For me this icon engenders our journeys in Christ and the point where the unity of the church meets the mission of the church. In recalling Jesus’ prayer from John 17, the Rev. Dr. Kyle Tau, former ecumenical staff officer at the Council of Bishops, recalls in UM & Global blog of the clear linkage between unity and mission, concluding that, “mission is the beginning and true end of ecumenism.” The church cannot separate mission and unity as if they are two unrelated activities; rather, unity and mission, like Peter and Paul, are intrinsically linked at the heart of our ecclesiology.

Yet, mission and unity too often are severed from one another. Instead of close embrace, unity and mission are broken apart and only gaze at each other from a distance. Equally as disturbing is our impulse to privilege mission over unity as if the unity of the church is a secondary calling to mission in the world; it cultivates a situation where missionary zeal demands theological purity which, in turn, diminishes or entirely negates the call for Christian unity. Methodists are often plagued by both approaches.

It then begs the question – what tools are necessary and fundamental to draw together the mission of the church and unity of the church into loving embrace like Peter and Paul? How do we bridge the division between Christians so that “mission is the beginning and true end of ecumenism”?

In this journey, dialogue remains a relevant instrument in the quest for the full and visible unity of the church and necessary to manifest the greatest expression of the mission of the church.

I am hesitant to strictly define dialogue because many theological/philosophical understandings and typologies exist. In its broadest sense, dialogue is a conversation between two or more people which is characterized by the exchange of ideas or opinions.

In the church, dialogue is often marked by encountering one another to gain greater understanding of our own Christian faith and the Christian faith of others, dispel myths or misperceptions, mutually recognize of a common baptism and faith in Jesus Christ, and grow together in God. Dialogue is formal and informal, local and global, and short and long. Dialogue is contextual and has different points of departure.

For church leaders, dialogue can be viewed within a formal context which seeks to bring one church into dialogue with another church for the purpose of full communion and interchangeability of clergy. Such dialogues for The United Methodist Church have been conducted with the Moravian Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Roman Catholic Church (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops), and The Episcopal Church. These formal dialogues also take place between world communions (association of churches with a shared theological heritage and mission like the World Methodist Council or the Lutheran World Federation).

An example of international dialogue is the Methodist-Roman Catholic International Commission, a special theological dialogue between the World Methodist Council and the Roman Catholic Church. The international Methodist-Roman Catholic dialogue celebrates 55 years of continuous dialogue in 2022, working for “a vision that includes the goal of full communion in faith, mission and sacramental life” (§20, The Nairobi Report, 1986). For the international dialogue (and in my opinion, every Christian dialogue), unity and mission are intertwined; we dialogue so we may be in unity and mission together.

I do caution that dialogue should not be viewed strictly as a project of the elite nor within a formal framework. While church-to-church (or denomination-to-denomination) and international dialogues are critical, dialogue should find a home in local congregations, not as formal theological dialogues but rather informal dialogues with siblings from different Christian churches which focus on faith practices, encounter, friendship, and mutual discernment. Local dialogue should give attention to the gifts of each local congregation and what can be shared with one another. Local dialogue can be shaped in learning-settings in small groups or shared action or mission projects in a community. Sometimes it is easier to bring together different Christian congregations through service to the community, thereby building friendship and trust. For local dialogue, encounter is key.

We cannot expect dialogue on its own to resolve all differences or heal all wounds. But dialogue opens Christians to one another, so the Holy Spirit may draw the unity of the church and the mission of the church into loving embrace.

The blog post originally appeared on the UM & Global blog.