A Conceptual Paper
Throughout the Fall, the Vermont Ecumenical
Council has diligently met to council with one another regarding
our common life and mission. From the contributions of the
Trustees and the Stakeholders emerged at least four vital
principles. These principles, drawn from the work reflected
in our monthly workbooks, beckon us to live out the mission
given to us as a gift and a task in Christ Jesus.
“At the heart of the ecumenical movement
is the conviction that there is one church and that its
members, however fragmented they may seem, are deeply related
to one another thanks to what God had done in Jesus Christ.
The ecumenical task, therefore, is not to create unity,
but to address divisions of human origin in order that the
unity God has given may be visible to the world”
“The Vision of the Ecumenical Movement” Michael
I. CRITICAL IMAGE: GATHERING
Our reassessment started with three questions:
What is the unity we already possess?
What are we in relationship to each other? What can we do
together? Each question vibrates with the dynamics of the
metaphor of “gathering”.
Our current practice is rooted in gathering:
for ‘intentional conversation’ regarding faith
and current issues; for prayer and worship; for addressing
matters of peace, justice and integrity of creation.
Gathering sustains us in ‘fellowship’
(koinonia). Gathering opens new doors. During this past year,
the judicatory heads have met regularly for Bible study and
conversation. Recently we became aware of a community where
the churches come together for common worship on one Sunday
of the month.
The first four goal statements of our reorientation
- to clarify our ecumenical vision;
- to assess and strengthen our life
as an ecumenical community;
- to identify and sort through issues
that both unite and divide us;
- to claim an ecumenical model that
offers vitality and faithfulness, locally, statewide and
To these ends, gathering needs to be
a critical priority for the life and work of our ecumenical
community. This concentration requires us to articulate
the meaning of gathering; be alert to existing experiences
across the state; to share stories and resources; and to
enable as yet unseen possibilities to surface by bringing
clergy and laity together.
II. CENTRAL FOCUS: THE LUND PRINCIPLE
The Lund Principle states that “given
unity in Christ” churches “should do together
everything except what irreconcilable difference of sincere
conviction compels us to do separately”.
An exercise during our September session [“Formation
and Training” and “Local Mission Projects”]
reveals that similar patterns tend to be followed by each
denomination while, for the most part, planning separately
for these ministries.
When asked, “What presently are we doing
separately that we could do together but are not?” the
Stakeholders [November 17] produced a lengthy list. Asked
to select a few top items, and begin to plan, the four groups
identified the following: adult spiritual life, family and
intergenerational experiences; lay institutes; youth; pooling
resources – buildings, supplies, fuel, insurance; joint
work on justice issues; communicating a Gospel message through
the media. A meeting of judicatory heads or representatives
[January 22, 2005] affirmed the inclusion of an agenda focus
that opened the way for speaking as one on systemic issues,
such as economic justice.
A steadfast focus on the Lund Principle offers
many avenues for discovering and witnessing to a visible unity
III EXTENDING THE CIRCLE: COUNCIL
The quest for unity belongs to the entire community.
Jesus said, “where two or three are gathered in my name,
I am there among them” (Mt. 18:20). This promise is
at the heart of our gathering, small group or large. Whatever
our tasks or gifts, the pursuit of unity belongs to the entire
Within this spirit, every person affiliated
with the organization is identified as a member of the Council.
Vision, direction and specific projects, among other tasks,
become the responsibility of every member of the Council.
A job description for Trustees would also include other aspects
of governance, personnel and finance.
IV ORDERING OUR LIFE: MISSION
The principles of gathering, the Lund Principle,
and extending the Council require a willingness to be strategic
about matching mission with meeting. The session for Stakeholders
offers a workable model. Semi-annually, the Council holds
a late afternoon meeting [5:00 to 8:00pm]. Carefully designed,
the event features prayer, music and worship; small group
sessions (committee and/or study); a featured speaker or presentation;
a business session; and other elements to serve the needs
of the Council. Goals can be framed for six months, a year
or longer. This approach allows a process for planning, reporting,
and accountability; it will also call for a commitment to
and support of staffing needed to achieve these goals.
Trustees hold regularly scheduled meetings
between these two gatherings. Standing committees continue
their patterns except in the month of the semi-annual meetings
(this becomes their meeting for the month).