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Ecumenical work of
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Reflections: Remembering
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Work project
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placeholder January 7, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 1   •   Oakland, CA
Ecumenical work of the Church
flourishes in Oakland diocese

Deacon Thomas McGowan

I am a child of God, an adopted brother to Jesus, raised by the Holy Spirit. That understanding caused me to realize how I could emphatically answer my father, a Methodist Minister, "no" when at 10 or 11 years old he asked me to join his church. I had never rebuffed him in my life. I asked myself over the years, how could I have done that?

I loved him. I loved my mother who was a practicing Catholic. Both parents were true to their Church; members of integrity. Having to choose one or the other was a dilemma. I didn't, however, experience it as a nuisance; I was sad because my father was disappointed.

There are many others of various Christian traditions who have had this experience of parents belonging to different faith traditions attempting to decide, or determine, what is best for their children, which church?

My call was not to judge my parents, rather, to live a different perspective: that is, to promote the challenge to churches to embrace the charity to achieve a unity of churches while maintaining integrity to the teachings of Jesus. This understanding rejects obstacles to being one with Jesus.

On Feb. 10, 1983, Father George Crespin, then chancellor of the Diocese of Oakland, selected me to be the Ecumenical Officer of the diocese.

My first important decision was to attend the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Vancouver, Canada. It was a good decision I found by the second day there. The quality of the presenters was excellent, informative.

The highlight of the Assembly was the surprise arrival of Bishop Tutu of South Africa.

The second most important decision supporting my going to the General Assembly was accepting to be housed in the Vancouver Hospital's staff quarters, which was some distance from the assembly's venue. This disappointment was to turn into joy.

Six of us out of those who were staying at the staff quarters began to be drawn to one another. We were each of a different Christian tradition. We were five men and one woman — a Methodist, an Episcopalian, a Moravian, a Lutheran, a Catholic and a Baptist.

Looking back to that time (1983), I wonder how we bonded so quickly, about three days! Now, I am struck by the Spirit of God. He who removes our cultural-condition view and issues lenses to see others as objects of love and giving, recalling with joy Jesus giving up himself for the sake of others, for us.

Coming to mind is Jesus's declaration: "I have not come to be served, but to serve," and "I pray, Father, that they be one as we are one."

This is ecumenism without cultural-conditioned lenses. We six, plus Jesus, plus the Holy Spirit, by the mercy of God the Father, were ecumenism itself.

This is the call to which I was called. To be open while maintaining integrity, to be ecumenism itself, the sign of Jesus' and my church's prayer that all Christian churches may be one in diversity.

It is a priority of our church universal; the prayer of Jesus (Jn 17:20-23): Each of us is called to this work.

During the years following 1983 to the early 2000s, our diocese was led by Bishop John Cummins. Ecumenical and interreligious work flourished in the diocese. The results of a survey of the parishes of the diocese revealed that 75 percent of the parishes were involved at some level of ecumenism and/or interreligious activities. The diocese was a member of the National Association of Diocesan Ecumenical Officers (NADEO), now known as Catholic Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers (CADEIO). I served for some eight years as the NADEO's representative to the National Council of Churches. During the same time, my dear friend Brother Jeff Gros served as the executive director of the National Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission. Our Church was in the ecumenical movement, really!

The Diocese of Oakland continues in the CADEIO with the support of its Ecumenical and Interreligious Commission.

 
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