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One Church, indivisible: Aimee's blog from Crete

Once every five years or so, a group of about 120 men and women, pastors, laypersons, academics, and church leaders get together to talk about the issues that still divide the churches. It's called the Faith and Order Plenary Commission, and its next meeting will take place at the Orthodox Academy of Crete, Greece, 7-13 October 2009.oac

This year, I've been invited to go. 

And I'm writing a blog.


The Big Crete Meeting

  •  Good morning from Athens!

    Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009

    My computer says it's 8:00 a.m. in California, and after almost 24 hours of travel I'm in Athens awaiting my final flight to Crete. As predicted, it was raining in Frankfurt, but I enjoyed a nice (if very tiny for $3) espresso during my layover there.

    For all you travel bugs out there, here's the latest: in Frankfurt, you don't have to take off your shoes when you go through security, though you do have to go through security even though you just got off a plane.

    In Athens, same deal. But my shoes made the detector beep, so I got to put my feet (one at a time) on this little machine which then, after testing them for who knows what, lit up with a green "okay" sign, and I was good to go.

    I sometimes wonder what aliens from another planet would think of the strange rituals we have here, like x-raying our shoes and putting our liquids in little plastic bags. Or getting instructions about life vests for a water landing, and then flying over the Austrian Alps.

    Now, aren't you glad you took the time to read this brilliant, jet-lag post? 

  •  I'm learning about stem cells

    Monday, Oct. 5, 2009

    For the discussion on moral discernment in the churches, we're being divided into discussion groups to review case studies on current moral and ethical issues. I discovered on my first plane ride that I'm in the "stem cell" group.

    So I've now read the stem cell case study, which is based on Protestant/Catholic debate on the issue in Germany. The other discussion groups will be looking at:

    • sexuality (including homosexuality, polygamy, divorce and abortion)
    • wealth, poverty, globalization, and the morality of economics
    • evangelism and proselytism, particularly by evangelical and Pentecostal churches in Orthodox areas of Eastern Europe

    The idea behind the case studies is to examine the methods by which churches come to their positions. The goal is not to come to any conclusion about the particular issue, or even argue the merits of one side or another, but to look at how we can stay in dialogue even in the midst of disagreement with each other.

    I'm particuarly excited about this area of the meeting, since my masters thesis was about how we talk to each other about difficult issues. Strategies for sticking together even when we don't agree would sure be useful these days, wouldn't they?

  •  Weather report

    Monday, Oct. 5, 2009

    Some of you asked about the weather where I'm headed. I'm pleased to report it's raining outside as I sit here in the Denver airport (rain always pleases me).

    I'm guessing it'll be raining in Frankfurt, too - I've never been through that airport when it wasn't raining, or at least overcast.

    Forecast for Athens, where I'll be for a couple of hours after Frankfurt : 78 degrees and sunny. For Chania, on Crete, my final destination, arrival around 8:00 p.m. local time Tuesday, the forecast for the week is low to mid 70s all week, and clear.

  •  Let's talk

    Saturday, Oct. 3, 2009

    In the early days of the movement toward Christian unity in the 20th century, there was a sense that if we could just get all the churches in the same room to talk about our differences, we'd be able to get past them.

    That was sort of true. Over the past 50 or 75 years, we've found by talking to each other that we have a lot in common, and in most parts of the world we've stopped killing each other over things like whether you need a sprinkle or a dousing or a full-blown dunking to join the body of Christ.

    In recent decades, though, it's become clear that just getting people in a room together isn't always enough. New questions have emerged, like who gets to be in the room? Where is the room located? What shape is the room? What shape is the table in the room? Who gets to sit at the head of the table? Who calls the meeting? Who leads the meeting? What language is spoken? Who sets the agenda?

    Churches have learned a lot about how to talk to each other. But they've also learned there's more to unity than talk: we need to eat together, pray together, spend time socializing and getting to know each other. We need to share our lives so we're not afraid of each other anymore.

    It turns out maybe the best way to get past our historic differences is become friends.

    The Faith and Order Plenary Commission will still follow a fairly academic style: professors and theologians and pastors and lay people writing papers, and reading them, and responding to them. But we'll also incorporate storytelling, case study, and illustration into the formal study. The personal will enter into the theological in a deliberate way. We'll also share meals, and fellowship, and worship.

    And we'll have Eucharistic celebrations separately, which always feel a bit like a defeat to me. 

    But it will be more than just talk. And that's what it will take.

  •  Where is Aimee going again?

    Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009

    Check it out - there are photos of the conference center. Try not to hate me, please:

  •  Bartholomew I to open the Faith and Order Plenary Commission meeting

    Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009

    Who is Bartholomew I, you might ask? He's the ecumenical patriarch. And what's the ecumenical patriarch? He's the head of all Orthodox Christians on all continents which do not fall under the jurisdiction of the autocephalous (independent) or autonomous (semi-independent) Churches.


    Christianity has a long and complicated history, and even within one "communion," like Orthodoxy, things aren't always clear-cut. But here's what you need to know about Bartholomew I:

    - He's the head of a whole bunch of Orthodox churches and bodies around the world, and you can think of him kind of like an Orthodox pope.

    - His offices - the Ecumenical Patriarchate - are in Constantinople, otherwise known as Istanbul, Turkey.

    - He's known as the "Green Patriarch" because of his commitment to environmentalism.

    For more on the ecumenical patriarch, check out this link:

    We'll also be hearing from other interesting folks throughout the week:

  •  Be yourself

    Tuesday, Sep. 29, 2009

    At most ecumenical meetings like this, we quickly get "labeled."

    "What country are you from, which denomination or communion are you with, what's your title or degree, what did you study?"

    The labels are complicated. On the one hand, it's helpful to know where people are from, or what church they belong to. On the other hand, none of these answers is simple.

    "I'm from the United States (really Oregon, which is different from Texas or California or New York). I'm Presbyerian (but Presbyterian Church USA, which is not the same as Cumberland Presbyterian or Presbyterian Church in America). I'm Reverend (but I'm also Ms., and daughter and granddaughter and sister and friend)..."

    In ecumenical settings, we're all trying to represent our traditions and bring them to the conversation, but we're also just individual people who've encountered God through a particular Christian lens, particular congregations, pastors or priests, cultures and contexts, life experiences. We bring all that and more to these meetings, each person with a story to tell.

    So, when we're trying to work through historic divisions, which labels matter, and which ones don't? Which ones get us closer to finding unity as the body of Christ, and which ones keep our divisions front and center? Which ones honor the richness of our traditions, and which ones need to be put to rest?

  •  What will all these people be talking about?

    Monday, Sep. 28, 2009

    So, more than 120 people are gathering to talk about the church and its divisions. What's on the agenda? 

    • What it means to be church: Is the church a building, a group of people, a particular tradition, a worship style, a theological conviction, a type of mission work? We'll be looking at a draft of "The Nature and Mission of the Church," which was written over recent years by people from diverse Christian traditions, seeking common ground about what it means to be the church.
    • Sources of authority: It's an old argument: Scripture vs. tradition. By looking at how churches use sources of authority, the commission will take a new approach to the old debate - less theory, more real, personal stories of faith.
    • Moral discernment: How does the church make moral choices? Through case studies – some of them on controversial issues like proselytism, homosexuality and stem-cell research – the commission will critically look at how churches arrive at their moral and ethical positions.


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