by The Rev. Dr. Stephen J. Sidorak, Jr.
In his sermon “Behold, I am Doing a New Thing,” Paul
Tillich observed the first thing about the “new” is that it cannot be forced or
calculated. He says all we can do is to be ready for the “saving new” which will
appear when we least expect it.
We began seeing
traces of a “new thing” for the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious
Concerns when I first assumed the position of general secretary in 2008. It became quite apparent that a major crisis
was upon us as a denomination. In many circles, I heard words to this
effect: “Not to worry, The United
Methodist Church has been threatening to change for over forty years!” Of course, the implication of that statement
is that we should have no worries; that this crisis too shall pass; it does not
need to be taken very seriously; and there is really no reason to change. I felt, early on, however, as if a kairos moment was upon us. It was not there to be denied, but to be
At GCCUIC, we decided not to let what some called
a crisis, and what we discerned to be an opportunity, go to waste. We proved ourselves ready to be made
new. It has resulted in a remarkable
convergence across the connection.
coming before the 2012 General Conference is for GCCUIC to become an integral
component of the common life of the Council of Bishops and serve as its instrument
for Christian unity and interreligious concerns. The Council of Bishops is charged with
corporate responsibility for and actual oversight of the ecumenical and
interreligious ministries of The United Methodist Church. It would be a logical place to be
lodged. It would be named the Office of Christian
Unity and Interreligious Relationships (OCUIR).
Yes, it would be the
end of GCCUIC as we know it.
Nevertheless, we must contemplate what constitutes the best ecumenical
and interreligious interests of “The People Called (United) Methodist.” For in
all these matters, the world tomorrow will demand more, not less, attention be paid to
the ecumenical imperative and the interreligious vocation of all parts of the
body of Christ.
What good would this restructuring do?
Please let me “argue it out” for you.
It would deepen the relationship between the ecumenical and
interreligious staff of The United Methodist Church and the membership of the
Council of Bishops. It would allow staff
to attend to the ecumenical and interreligious education and formation of
bishops. It would help cultivate a culture of undivided attention to things
ecumenical and interreligious within the Council of Bishops. It would enable
and facilitate stronger connections to the annual conferences and their local
churches. It would give ecumenical and
interreligious staff direct access to Central Conference bishops collectively
and likely improve the prospects for deeper understanding and greater cooperation
worldwide. It would encourage us to
focus dwindling financial resources on important ecumenical and interreligious
meetings and events. It would reduce the
number of individuals involved in governance.
It would represent an honest effort to be good stewards. Finally, it would reflect more clearly the
structural model used by our ecumenical partners and enable them to more
readily comprehend our ecumenical and interreligious ministries and the way
they are led.
Ultimately, we are
talking about creating a new structure that will strengthen our commitment as United
Methodists to bring unity, peace and justice to the world.
Going forward, it will be imperative that
there be intentional provision for the meaningful inclusion and active
participation of lay people. There can
be no room for any kind of exclusive “clericalism” in this proposed new
office. We must honor the gifts and
graces that the laity bring to any resultant restructuring.
Thus, this is not a “power-grab” by the
Council of Bishops, as many perceive it to be.
To the contrary, this initiative to incorporate GCCUIC into the Council
of Bishops and create therein a new OCUIR was first taken by GCCUIC
itself! It is simply an attempt to be
more efficient and effective in the way the ecumenical and interreligious ministries
of The United Methodist Church are organized and managed. We must ensure that GCCUIC’s critical and
unique functions are considerably enhanced in whatever form a remodeled United
Methodist household emerges. In fact, we
should seek to re-shape the ecumenical and interreligious ministries of The
United Methodist Church so that we lead with more than our money.
In conclusion, let me emphasize the
institutional significance, the
Constitutional significance, of Christian unity and interreligious concerns
within The United Methodist Church. What
matters most is that we protect and preserve this very
significance, not defend or conserve any particular organized expression of it. Too much is at stake for us to curl-up inside
a cozy cocoon while all around us there loom threats that could substantially
diminish and further marginalize why GCCUIC came into existence in the first
* Sidorak, an
ordained elder in the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Methodist Church,
is general secretary of the General Commission on Christian Unity and
Interreligious Concerns with offices in New York.