No. This isn’t an updated version of Old McDonald Had a Farm (Ee i ee i o). It stands for Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer. EDEIO is the national network of those designated by their diocesan bishops with special responsibility for encouraging the search for the wider visible unity of Christ’s Church and collegial relationships with members of other religions. In the dioceses of Eastern and Western Michigan, it’s my joy to serve as the Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer.
The annual meeting of EDEIOs is held at the National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU) along with Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, United Methodist, and other Evangelical ecumenical networks. I attended the NWCU (for the first time pre-COVID in 2019) and last month in Milwaukee from May 8 – 11. The theme for this year’s workshop came from the theme for this past January’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which comes from Isaiah 1:17 “Do Good; Seek Justice,” and was developed by the Minnesota Council of Churches in response to the injustice experienced by people of color in that state and beyond.
The Rev. Canon Dr. Stephanie Spellers, who serves as Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Evangelism, Reconciliation, and Creation Care was our Theologian-in-Residence. To begin each session, Canon Spellers led us in singing Wade in the Water; a spiritual that Harriet Tubman used, to tell escaping slaves to get off the trail and into the water to make sure the dogs slave catchers used, couldn’t sniff out their trail. Canon Spellers also led us in considering Isaiah’s theme under three sub-topics: listening to the biblical call to justice, lamenting the lack of justice in our world, and living into justice in our communities. And each day we joined in table conversations around the practice of justice, facilitated by the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center.
What rose up for me at this workshop was the embodiment of collegiality. What rose up for me at this workshop was the realization that even in our time, so many American Christians hold on –– to varying degrees –– to a “we’re right, you’re wrong” mindset, in both theology and action. And that perspective –– either consciously or not –– filters down to barriers we erect over denominational and parochial issues; on everything from human sexuality to how we administer Communion.
I started to become aware of these distinctions while I was growing up as a Jewish (recently Bar Mitzvah’d) young man; when televangelists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson promised damnation and eternal fire for those who didn’t think as they thought or believe as they believed. And while many moderate Christians dismissed this kind of extremism, they nevertheless embraced some version of denominational and/or religious exclusivity.
Yet, the Rev. Michael Kinnamon (past General Secretary of the National Council of Churches) said that “Denominations are wonderful adjectives, but idolatrous nouns.” And the late Rev. Walter R. Bouman (contributor to the Called to Common Mission Concordat) said “The agreement between the Episcopal Church and the ELCA is a witness that God is making One, what had previously been divided. Failure to be in full communion with each other is sinful before God, because it means that the denominations are simply brand names competing for a share of the Christian market.”
Christianity began with Jesus, a devout Jew, who rather than wanting to start a new religion, simply wanted Temple leadership and Temple worship to be reformed. As Martin Luther didn’t want to start Lutheranism but wanted the Roman church to reform. Yet according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, there are more than twohundred Christian denominations in the U.S., and more than forty-five thousand globally. Forty-five thousand! That’s a lot of groups implying (or saying outright) that they’re right and others –– while maybe not quite wrong –– aren’t quite as right.
The Rt. Rev. Thomas E. Breidenthal, ninth bishop of the Diocese of Southern Ohio, wrote (as part of the DuBose Lectures at the School of Theology at the University of the South) that our relationships with each other are of paramount importance, because the atonement necessary to salvation includes our atonement with one another –– human to human –– and that the divisions between us are lies. In John’s Gospel (17:221a) we hear Jesus pray that the disciples may all be one; and that as the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father, may they also be in them. It’s like E pluribus unum; which is translated as “Out of many, One;” and is the motto of the United States. And in this time, we are all trying in so many ways to find our way back to being One, aren’t we?
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori (past Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church) said “For us Christians, Jesus is our doorway to God; but for us to think that God couldn’t possibly act in some other way, is for us humans to put God in a very small box.”
Boxes don’t exist in creation. They are human-made. Let’s not have boxes. And we get a further glimpse of this truth in Ps. 118:5: I called out to God from my narrowness, and God answered me with a vast expanse. And in 1 Corinthians 13: For we know only in part; we see in a mirror dimly, but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
God’s diversity was never intended to be divisive. So as the riot of spring growth explodes from the ground, let’s affirm diversity in all its life-giving forms, and recapture and share with each other, some grace from God’s garden.
the Rev. Mike Wernick,