Jordan B. Davis
Church Relations Officer
When it seems that people are butting heads all around the world because of differing religious views, it is refreshing to hear about the ecumenical opportunities taking place nearby. As I sat and talked with Rev. Ed Johnson (M. Div., 2014) at Pinetops Presbyterian this past Sunday, he told me about a ecumenical Thanksgiving service that he and members of Pinetops Presbyterian would be participating in later in the day. This annual service brings together members of the local Presbyterian, Baptist, Missionary Baptist, Church of God, and Methodist congregations (a total of 11 congregations from Pinetops, NC and surrounding communities.) An offering is taken up and goes into a joint account that all the churches use to support those in need in the community for food and clothing, as well as offerings for other issues of need. Rev. Johnson continued to explain that the ecumenical relationships extend in various forms during the year as the individual congregational leaders work with one another to lead various worship services in one another’s worship setting.
As I sat and listened to Rev. Johnson, I wondered what would happen if communities around the country and world took this relationship building seriously. Pinetops, NC is a small town (1 square mile) that has embraced opportunity where many might see none. By extending their reach to surrounding communities and looking at the needs around them, they are changing the hearts and mindsets of the individuals both within their congregations and those who see this relationship from the outside. Sitting and listening to this story, I saw hope and excitement in Rev. Johnson’s eyes and it was contagious.
Interfaith conversations are naturally built in at Union where students come from a variety of denominational backgrounds- Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Luther, Episcopal, Church of Christ, and Church of God (just to name a few.) Personally, I craved these conversations about theology and polity since I grew up Disciples of Christ, attended both a Methodist and a Presbyterian church in college, and was going through the Presbyterian ordination process. Through our new curriculum at Union, the students are being given a wonderful opportunity to grow beyond these classroom conversations as they explore interfaith relationships in the community and I am excited to see what effect it has on the future of our Church. In fact, as I write a conversation has started in our community Facebook group about one of many interfaith opportunities coming up, this one led in part by one of our own students.
I wonder though, what about those of us who are already well into ministry and seminary is a distant memory. How can we begin to foster these ecumenical and interfaith relationships within our own communities? What effect will these relationships, and seeing congregational leaders fostering them, have on our congregations?
Headlines, cartoons, and statuses about religious differences are filling our media in almost all negative ways during this time of year when ideally, we should be coming together. It is up to us as leaders of our faith communities to change this. We may not be able to change the world with one church, but we can begin to make a difference within our community.
How does your congregation engage with other faith communities? What changes have you seen as the relationships are built? There is no better time to start the conversation than today!
To learn more about the “Church in the World” aspect of Union Presbyterian Seminary’s curriculum, check out our Academic Catalog (p25).