Ecumenism Explored

 

Accredited June course offered at Prairie Centre

 

Saskatoon’s Prairie Centre for Ecumenism is breaking new ground by offering an accredited three-year study program in Ecumenical Studies and Formation. The program is dedicated to informing Christians in the theology, history and practice of ecumenism with the churches of Canada and abroad, says Darren Dahl, director of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism (PCE). It involves participants coming to Saskatoon for one week in June for each of the three years.

“This is year two for the program,” Dahl says. “Last summer was our pilot year. “This summer we’re offering both the first- and second-year streams which means we’ll be having a returning class plus new participants.”

The goal of the first year is to introduce students to the basic history, ideas, and biblical perspectives of ecumenical thought and practice. Dahl says the instructors are prepared to meet students at whatever level they may be working, and with as much or as little experience in theological education and biblical study as they bring. Each participant will have opportunity to reflect on the following topics: Mapping Ecumenism by Darren Dahl, Biblical Foundations of Ecumenism by Michael Poellet, History of Ecumenism by Nicholas Jesson, Spiritual Ecumenism by Bernard de Margerie and Amanda Currie, and Principles of Ecumenical Theology by Donald Bolen.

"We first want to teach people what ecumenism is — the search within the Christian church for unity,” Dahl says. “Once that is established, we begin to discuss how we can understand it. What do the scriptures tell us about the nature of the church and why Christians should seek unity.”

The History of Ecumenism explores the search for unity, its history, historic practices of disunity, and the long history of division. Spiritual Ecumenism includes an examination of the practices of ecumenism within the life and worship of the church.

“The more formational aspect of this is that ecumenism requires a sort of conversion, a change of heart to look for that unity,” Dahl says. “Ecumenism needs to be at the heart of the Christian life.”

Principles of Ecumenical Theology looks at the nature of the church and what it means to seek unity. “What do we do when our principles for seeking unity are different from those of other churches?” The study themes for year two and three of the course will change each year. This year’s themes are Baptism and Eucharist, and will be addressed by two visiting theological scholars, Dr. Timothy George, a Baptist and dean of Beeson Divinity School in the U.S., and Sister Donna Geernaert, a Roman Catholic woman. Both are experts in ecumenical dialogue and veterans at all its levels.

Dahl says the goal is have speakers each year who represent two different perspectives. This year’s speakers will discuss what is at stake in the two areas of discussion, the concerns, the recognition that baptism brings us together, and the failure to accept the differences in celebration of the Eucharist.

“The other part of the program is the formational part,” Dahl continues. “We are in the process of forming people. “In this course, we’re coming together in community for a week, worshipping together, learning together, playing together, and in the process, forming a community of ecumenical leaders.”

Program participants will come away from the weeklong course with homework that includes reading prescribed materials and writing reflections. The second requirement is to become involved in the local community, either providing leadership for an ecumenical event or participating in one already planned. Students will keep a journal and reflect on that experience. Dahl says the heart of the advanced second and third year programs is the conviction that all theological reflection and Christian formation must be dialogic — “not simply talkative, but genuinely open to the other person, tradition and way. “And while ecumenism is about more than dialogue, the experience of dialogue is central to all ecumenical work.” He notes how that is happening locally, as well as internationally with the Joint Declaration on Justification by Faith drawn up by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation. 

The Program for Ecumenical Studies and Formation will be held at Queen’s House of Retreats from June 23 to 26. To register, visit www. pcecumenism.ca, email admin@pcecumenism.ca, or call 306-653-1633.

Dahl says this is the only program of its kind being offered in Canada and one of maybe three or four in North America. The intended audience includes ecumenical officers, people in training for ministry, ministry practitioners whose work is located within an ecumenical setting, and lay people who wish to increase their knowledge of the ecumenical movement for greater participation. The program is running at Queen’s House simultaneously with the Canadian Council of Churches’ Interchurch Forum on Dialogues. Dahl expects the groups to interact and mutually benefit.

For more details on the program or to register, visit the Program in Ecumenical Studies menu on the homepage.