May 15, 2015

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

Annual workshop on Christian unity builds bridges of faith

NWCU. Another acronym? Yes, another one. It stands for the “National Workshop on Christian Unity.”

In 1963, a group of Roman Catholics, in the context of the Second Vatican Council, met to equip Church leadership for ecumenical ministry.

By 1969, leaders of other Christian communions were invited to join. Today, the national ecumenical officers of the participating communities—Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist and Evangelical—organize the workshop through national and local committees.

During the workshop, there are both denominational and ecumenical sessions. 

The 41st annual gathering took place in Charlotte, N.C., on April 20-23.

Because of the 50th anniversary of Vatican II’s “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” (“Nostra Aetate”), greater attention was paid to interreligious issues. Given that the NWCU is about Christian unity, this was somewhat unusual.

“Nostra Aetate” is the shortest of the 16 documents set down by the Council fathers. It was revolutionary in opening up relationships, conversations and dialogues, especially with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus.

The opening keynote was given by Dr. Sandra Keating. Her major focus as a writer and scholar is Catholic-Muslim relations. She revisited the progress Christians have made to be “one.” And then she drove home two important points.

For Muslims as a whole, the very lack of visible unity among Christians is a major stumbling block. The conflicts among Christians that erupt in disrespectful speech belie the call of Jesus to “love one another.” Muslims do not see how we can embrace Jesus and his teaching while acting so divided and divisive. They question whether Christianity is a religion of truth.

She went on to note the fact that Muslims have their divisions (Suni, Shia, Wahabi, Aloite). But they measure being a good Muslim by how one observes daily prayer, keeping of Ramadan, etc. They do not measure fidelity by a creed, as Christians do. This distinction is very helpful when entering into a dialogue relationship.

Three consecutive Bible study seminars were led by Dr. Amy-Jill Levine. She is a scripture scholar and instructor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

With humor and keen insight, Levine encouraged us to examine the accuracy and completeness of what is taught about Judaism in our Christian seminaries. She urged us to move beyond poor and badly informed preaching about Judaism. She cited as excellent the document by our own bishops, “God’s Mercy Endures Forever: How to Talk about Jews and Judaism.”

Her critiques were given with the utmost respect.

Using 10 examples from both books and articles, she exposed misconceptions about Judaism stated by noted scholars and Sunday preachers. For example: “The Mosaic Law is a burden and too hard to follow,” and “The God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath, the God of the New Testament is a God of love.” She supplied clear examples of Jesus’ own teaching to address the first (he was an observant Jew), and passages from the Psalms and prophets revealing a God of love.

Her vast knowledge of Judaism before and during Jesus’ time was helpful. She displayed a complete knowledge of the Christian Scriptures and the life of the early Church. I was captivated by her ability as a teacher.

This was my third time attending NWCU. We had our denominational sessions and meetings, and we worshipped and prayed together daily through the tradition of one of the participating denominations. We lamented the lack of visible unity.

But we rejoiced in what has been accomplished these past 50 years, and the respect and love shared at NWCU. God blesses our work.

(Father Rick Ginther is director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism. He is also dean of the Terre Haute deanery and pastor of St. Patrick and St. Margaret Mary parishes, both in Terre Haute. E-mail him at

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