The 2018 Conference approved “Vision of Ecumenism for the 21st Century,” and in doing so reaffirmed the historical identity of the Church of the Brethren as a denomination active in ecumenical work and in relationship with other Christian bodies. The paper also calls the church to build and nurture positive interfaith relationships.
“In doing so, we strengthen a history of service and missions, disaster response and relief ministries, and peace witness--nationally and globally,” the statement said. “These relationships further our understanding of opportunities for mission and ministry, and they instill a cooperative readiness to act upon needs and areas of common concern when they arise.”
The statement is intended to guide the church’s ecumenical and interfaith witness in a time of increased religious diversity in the US and around the world, brought by a committee established as part of a recommendation in 2012 from the former Interchurch Relations Study Committee.
“Brethren in the US need to take up the task of loving our neighbors whatever religion they hold,” chair Tim Speicher said as he introduced the paper, citing Ephesians 4:4-6 and other scriptures. This message about Christian responsibility to love was strengthened by Elizabeth Bidgood-Enders, another member of the committee, who told the Conference, “We are called to love God and love our neighbors without qualifiers as to who those neighbors are.”
In addition to guidance, scripture, and historical foundations, the paper offers ideas for commitments and activities to help the Church of the Brethren at all levels--individual, congregational, district, and denominational--extend love, caring, and service to neighbors of varying backgrounds and beliefs. Speicher noted the benefits of such involvement, even for small or struggling congregations, saying many “find that their faith is enriched and strengthened because of having to engage with other people.”
The paper received vigorous attention from the delegate body, including a time of “table talk” and questions from the microphones. Many speakers supported the committee’s work and echoed the paper’s urging toward more opportunities to witness ecumenically and carry out service across faith boundaries in the name of Christ, with peacemaking seen as one outcome of such work. Others questioned interfaith activity as appropriate for the church, and spoke their concerns that such interactions compromise the Christian faith.
An amendment attempting to strike references to interfaith activity failed. An amendment was adopted that replaced the phrase “children of God” at one point in the paper with the phrase “all people are created by and precious to God.” The amender cited the use of the deleted phrase by Mormons and other groups.
-- Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford contributed this report.
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