OCUIR Newsletter

The Council of Bishops 

Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships
The United Methodist Church


 www.ocuir.org                                                              3rd Quarter | 2016 

Upcoming Events:
British Methodist Conference
Storey's Gate, London
June 30 - July 7

MARCHA 2016: Embracing New Horizons
San Juan, Puerto Rico
August 4-7

Unity Walk 2016
Washington, DC
September 11

North American Academy of Ecumenists
Atlanta, GA
September 23-25

Ecumenical Formation Seminar
Ecumenical Institute of Bossey 
Geneva, Switzerland
September 25-29
July - September 2016

Ramadan *begins at sundown - June 5 - July 5

Ramadan is an occasion to focus on faith through fasting and prayer, and is one of the most important Muslim holidays. Ramadan is notable because the Qur'an was first revealed during this month, and Muslims see the Qur'an as the ultimate form of guidance for mankind. The night that the Qur'an was revealed to Muhammad is called Lailat ul Oadr, and standing in prayer this one night is thought to eclipse months of worship.

General practices: 
Fasting is required during the entire month of Ramadan. Muslims refrain from food and beverages during the daylight hours, and smoking and sexual relations are forbidden. Worshipers break the fasting each night with prayer, reading of the Qu'ran, and a meal called the iftar. In addition, many Muslims also attend night prayers at Mosques. Muslims also believe that their good actions bring a greater reward during this month than any other time of the year, so almost all Muslims try to give up bad habits during Ramadan.

Laylat al-Qadr - July 1

Considered the holiest night of the year for Muslims, and is traditionally celebrated on the 27th day of Ramadan. It is known as the "Night of Power," and commemorates the night that the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

General practices
Study, devotional readings, and prayer, as the night's holiness is believe to make it a very good time for prayers to be answered.  

Eid al-Fitr - July 4-5

Eid al-Fitr means "break the fast", and is the last day of Ramadan, marking the end of a month of fasting.

General practices
Muslims often pray, exchange gifts, give money to children, feast, and celebrate with friends and family.  

Obon - July 13-15
Shinto Buddhist

General practices:
Shinto Buddhists hang lanterns in front of their houses to guide their ancestors' spirits, as this time commemorates ancestors, and it is believed that the ancestors' spirits return to the world during Obon. There are festivals with food and dances to celebrate.

Date details: 
Usually observed the 13-15 of the seventh month of the solar calendar, but is sometimes observed in August.

Tisha B'Av *begins at sundown - August 13

Commemorates a series of Jewish tragedies including the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem.

General practices:
Fasting and mourning.

Date details: 
Begins at sundown on first day, fast deferred because of the Sabbath.
Raksha Bandhan - August 17

The Rakhi festivity falls in the holy month of Shravan; The origin and history of Rakhi can be dated back to the mythological Pouranik times.

General practices: 
A day to acknowledge siblings and their relationships.

Krishna Janmashtami - August 25

This two-day festival celebrates the birth of Krishna, a widely-worshiped Hindu god. Krishna is considered to be a warrior, hero, teacher, and philosopher.

General practices: 
During this festival, Hindus are likely to forgo sleep in order to sing bhajans, traditional Hindu songs. Many Hindus also fast during the first day of the festival. Dances, songs, and plays depicting the life of Krishna are common.

Date details: 
The first day is called Krishan ashtami or Gokul ashtami. The second day is known as Kaal ashtami or more popularly Janam ashtami.

Ganesh Chaturthi - Sept. 5

A 10 day Hindu festival to honor the elephant-headed God Ganesha's birthday. He is the younger son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati.

General practices:
There are four main rituals during the festival - Pranapratishhtha - the process of infusing the deity into a murti or idol, Shhodashopachara - 16 forms of paying tribute to Ganesha, Uttarpuja - Puja after which the idol could be shifted after it's infusion, Ganpati Visarjan - immersion of the Idol in the river.

Waqf al Arafa (Hajj Day) - Sept. 10

General practices
At dawn, Muslim pilgrims go from Mina to Mount Arafa and the Plain of Arafa, the site where Muhammad gave his Farewell Sermon in his last year of life.

Date details: Takes place 70 days after the end of the month of Ramadan and is the second day of the Hajj pilgrimage.

Eid al-Adha - Sept. 12-13

Eid al-Adha is a major festival that celebrates the willingness to make sacrifices in the name of one's faith. According to legend, the prophet Ibrahim was ordered to sacrifice his son in God's name. When Ibrahim was prepared to kill his son, God stepped in and gave him a sheep to sacrifice instead. This holiday celebrates Ibrahim's total faith in God, and Muslims view this holiday as an important annual reminder.

General practices
Prayers, gift giving, prayers, and sometimes slaughtering of sheep, with a portion of the meat gifted to the poor.

Date details
Lunar calendars can vary based on region and practice. Begins at sundown.

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Dear Colleagues, 

It's been a very busy season for the COB OCUIR, and in this edition of our newsletter, we focus the spotlight on the work we've accomplished over the last six months. Many of our efforts during this period were, of course, geared towards the achievement of a successful General Conference. 

These diverse efforts and events, from the Commemoration of the 200th Anniversary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the ratification of Full Communion with the Uniting Church in Sweden and the Moravian Church (Northern & Southern Provinces), the approved and expanded definition of full communion, the presentation of the Council of Bishops Ecumenical Award and the creation of the Young Adult Network (UMEIT YAN), highlight the myriad of ways in which the COB OCUIR has developed and extended The United Methodist Church's ecumenical and interfaith outreach around the globe.

In the process, we've encountered a lot of new faces, shaken a lot of new hands, shared a lot of new resources, and hopefully, moved a bit closer to visible unity. Many of you played a role in these events. We're grateful for your participation -- and thank you for your effort, warmth and enthusiasm. 


General Conference 2016

Unity Message
The message of unity was front and center at the COB OCUIR's booth at General Conference, urging all to celebrate ecumenical work and to create a positive tone and atmosphere. As delegates struggled with difficult issues, the underscoring and recitation of unity reminded everyone that The United Methodist Church is, and will be, better for the struggle, since its strength of witness depends upon unity. The theme was enthusiastically embraced on social media, with the COB OCUIR's Twitter channel experiencing a 400% increase over the previous month.

"We believe our deeply rooted call to unity springs from God's command that we "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). We must embrace one another in God's love, remain steadfast through our differences and heed God's call to unity." 

The Pre-General Conference Consultation

The COB OCUIR led a Pre-General Conference Consultation on Ministry Relationships on May 6th and 7th, with The General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) acting as partner. The event gathered Methodist leaders from our autonomous, affiliated, covenant and concordat churches together for hospitality, conversation and the expression of ideas. The leaders reflected on how to best be in relationship going forward. Approximately fifty people participated, and the World Café method was utilized for discussion. The COB OCUIR looks forward to building on this important discussion.
 Ecumenical Day (May 17)

Led by the COB OCUIR, Ecumenical Day opened with an introduction of the ecumenical guests and was followed by a worship service led by Bishop Ivan Abrahams of the World Methodist Council. Interspersed throughout the service were various celebrations, including the 200th anniversary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Council of Bishops Ecumencial Award and several full communion agreements. During a luncheon attended by the guests and the bishops, Church World Service presented its own ecumenical award to The United Methodist Church.
200th Anniversary of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, Ecumenical Officer of the COB OCUIR, issued a statement in joyous recognition of the 200th anniversary of the African Methodist Episcopal Church on Ecumenical Day. Her full statement can be found here: 

Council of Bishops Ecumenical Award 
Thom White Wolf Fassett receiving Ecumenical Award from Bishop Mary Ann Swenson.

Three leaders received The United Methodist Church Council of Bishops Ecumenical Award, an honor bestowed during every General Conference. The joint recipients of the award were: Diana Eck, professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies and Frederic Wertham professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society at Harvard University; Rev. Thom White Wolf Fassett, a citizen of the Seneca Nation and emeritus general secretary for the General Board of Church and Society; and Bishop Mortimer Arias, who became the first bishop of the Bolivian Methodist Church and served in that post until the political situation forced him into exile. Bishop Mary Ann Swenson presided over the ceremony, commenting, " Every one of this year's awardees demonstrates ecumenical commitment and leadership by fostering interreligious relationships. Each makes a unique contribution to building Christian Unity."
Mutual Recognition of Full Communion Between the Moravian Church and The UMC

The United Methodist Church approved a relationship of full communion with the Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church in North America. The full communion agreement recognizes each other's ministries and encourages witness and mission work together. Representatives from The UMC announced the approval during the Ecumenical Day celebration. At a press conference on May 17th, Dr. Glen Alton Messer II, Associate Ecumenical Staff Officer, reflected, " You find out many things about yourself as well when you talk with a dialogue partner. You find out a lot about your similarities and your differences and have a real opportunity to grow in relationship with one another." The full communion agreement will be referred to the 2018 Synods of the Northern and Southern Provinces for approval. Once those approvals are reached, the agreement will be final.
Full Communion Between the Uniting Church in Sweden and The UMC

United Methodists also celebrated the approval of a full communion relationship with the Uniting Church in Sweden. In 2012, General Conference approved the request from Swedish United Methodists for a merger of The United Methodist Church, Baptist Union Church of Sweden and Mission Covenant Church of Sweden, leaving the denomination and forming a new one.
The Sand Creek Massacre
The 2016 General Conference plenary session on May 18th featured a detailed analysis of the Sand Creek Massacre by historian Gary L. Roberts. Roberts presented a tutorial on the report, "Remembering The Sand Creek Massacre: A Historical Review of Methodist Involvement, Influence, and Response," which outlined the details of the massacre. The massacre is now seen in a wider context as one result of the westward expansion of the United States, during which indigenous tribes suffered dislocation and decimation. 

The session exalted the guests from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, including some descendants of Sand Creek survivors, who addressed the gathering and later joined the Council of Bishops in a private dinner. The remembrance included the singing of a Native American chief's song, both to honor those chiefs present and those killed in the massacre. 

A committee formed by the Council of Bishops' Justice and Reconciliation Leadership Team will continue the important work of remembrance and of strengthening relationships between The United Methodist Church and indigenous peoples.
Wonder, Love, and Praise
A petition submitted by the Committee on Faith and Order to make " Wonder, Love, and Praise" a church-wide study in the upcoming quadrennium was passed. "Wonder, Love, and Praise" is a statement that articulates and clarifies who we are as United Methodists. 

Each resident bishop will be asked to arrange for congregationally-based studies of this document between June 2016 and December 2017. All United Methodists will be invited and encouraged to offer feedback on United Methodist ecclesiology. 

Ecumenical Work of the COB OCUIR

Week of Christian Unity
The event calls Christians to come together as one in prayer to pursue justice and to promote human dignity. The COB OCUIR has played a critical role in bridging divides both across faiths and within Christianity as part of its work for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. To celebrate this year, COB staff and Bishop Mary Ann Swenson led the opening service at a Pre-General Conference briefing held in Portland, OR.
Ecumenical Formation

Rev. Jean Hawxhurst with Young Adults Katye Dunn, Vasylyna Babych, Katie Steele, and Soren Hessler.

United Methodist Ecumenical and Interreligious Training (UMEIT)
UMEIT is the main avenue through which Annual Conferences send representatives to be trained on ecumenical and interfaith ministries. Two training events, The National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU) and UMEIT USA, were held simultaneously on April 18th-21st, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. Scholarships were granted to seminary students to attend both events.

UMEIT Young Adult Network
The purpose of the newly-formed UMEIT YAN is to train young adults in ecumenical and interfaith theology, history, polity and ministry within The United Methodist Church. A select group of young adults are being trained who will, in turn, carry out their own program plan to mentor and cultivate other young adults within their own contexts.
Ecumenical Relationships

Episcopalians and United Methodists met in Charlotte, North Carolina for the third session of their Dialogue on Full Communion.

Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC) Plenary
CUIC, a body committed to expressing unity and combating racism, gathered in St. Louis to further explore and illuminate issues of race and reconciliation. The group, comprised of ten Christian communions, met January 28th-30th, primarily at St. Peter African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in St. Louis, MO.

Christian Churches Together (CCT) 10th anniversary
This gathering of CCT represented its 10th anniversary celebration, and included participants from Evangelical/Pentecostal churches, Historic Protestant churches, African American churches, Orthodox churches and the Catholic Church. Dr. Jean Hawxhurst attended this commemoratory event.

National Council of Churches (NCC) Unity Gathering
The NCC Unity Gathering was held in Washington, D.C. May 4th through 6th. The focus was finding practical methods to combat mass incarceration, acts of violence and hateful speech against communities of color and people of other faiths. The COB OCUIR ensured that representatives of The United Methodist Church were present and able to lend their voices from a United Methodist perspective.

The Episcopal Church (USA) - UMC Dialogue
The Episcopal-UMC Dialogue, co-chaired by Bishop Gregory Palmer, held its third session of the current round in Charlotte, NC between April 25th and 27th. Members of the committee made substantive progress in working towards a full communion proposal. The next meeting will be held in October of this year.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) - UMC Dialogue
The participants of session three, round eight of the USCCB-UMC Dialogue met at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN from May 31st through June 2nd. Several papers were shared and discussed. This round specifically focused on summarizing nearly 50 years of dialogue and creating resources for local churches to assist them in deepening our common witness and mission in communities across the United States. Bishop Peggy Johnson succeeded Bishop Mike Watson as co-chair. The next session will be held in December of this year.
Resources from COB OCUIR

Perfecting Unity
Perfecting Unity, a book by Dr. Glen Alton Messer, II, investigates both the beauty and challenges of Christian unity.

Perfecting Unity has been written as an aid to discernment for Christ's disciples in this present moment of time; in our world and context. It has also been written as an aid to those who wish to understand Christians and the things with which they wrestle as they attempt to live faithfully in the world. It is not a book that provides answers; it is a book that challenges answers formulated previously by other faithful Christians in different moments and different contexts. It is not a repudiation of what came before, but a reminder that the courage in people of faith necessitates the testing of previous worldviews and the formulation of new best attempts to incarnate the love of God in us and around us.

Perfecting Unity is being released one chapter weekly, starting May 5th, 2016, with the final chapter expected in October. The link to the chapters can be found on OCUIR.org.

Ecumenical Prayer Book

The COB OCUIR created an ecumenical prayer booklet in four different languages for General Conference delegates. The prayers were contributed by leaders of other denominations and leaders of ecumenical organizations, with the thrust that God would bless the participants during their time together to further God's Kingdom. The prayers were also offered by the COB OCUIR as an online resource and via social media. This resource is still available for continued use through the COB OCUIR.

Interfaith Wedding and Funeral Brochures
Eight interreligious brochures were developed as a resource for the performing Hindu-Christian, Muslim-Christian, Jewish-Christian, and Buddhist-Christian wedding and funeral services. These guides were developed from a North American perspective, and information on how to obtain them is available through the COB OCUIR. United Methodists from other cultural contexts are encouraged to assist COB OCUIR in creating a similar resources applicable specifically for them.
Looking ahead ...

Ecumenical Handbook
In an acknowledgment that the calling to work for Christian unity is a foundational theme in the Bible and central to the whole of salvation history, COB OCUIR is creating an Ecumenical and Interreligious Handbook to help support the Council of Bishops and district superintendents.
Other Recent Ecumenical Events

Methodist Ecumenical Office Rome (MEOR)
Bishop B. Michael Watson, secretary of the Council of Bishops Leadership Team on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations and Resident Bishop of North Georgia Episcopal Area, joined Pope Francis at Ponte Sant'Angelo in Rome for the dedication of a new Methodist Ecumenical Office. The new Methodist Ecumenical Office will provide educational programs that promote worldwide communion and ecumenism. Joining Bishop Watson were leaders of the Catholic Church, World Methodist Council, the Methodist Council of Europe and the Methodist Church in Britain.
Commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of Bishop Francis Asbury

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson attended the celebration commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of Bishop Francis Asbury in the United Kingdom. Bishop Swenson was invited to speak on the topic of, "What Is It Like To Be A Bishop?" Bishop Swenson shared her thoughts on the 'making' of Bishops, as well as celebrating the life, work and ministry of Bishop Francis Asbury. The Church of England formally adopted legislation in 2014 that resulted in the first female bishops being ordained in 2015.
Ecumenical Advocacy Days
Bishop Mary Ann Swenson also joined the World Council of Churches (WCC) leadership group, Church World Service, the NCC and others in Washington, D.C. for the Ecumenical Advocacy Days event which took place from April 15th through the 22nd. Ecumenical Advocacy Days are "a movement of the ecumenical Christian community, and its recognized partners and allies, grounded in biblical witness and our shared traditions of justice, peace and the integrity of creation."
World Council of Churches "United States Racial Justice Solidarity Visit"
The WCC "United States Racial Justice Solidarity Visit," part of The Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, held events throughout the country, including stops in Ferguson, MO and Chicago, IL. Acting in her role as vice moderator of the WCC central committee, Bishop Swenson participated in this pilgrimage which met with Black Lives Matter activists and local church leaders.
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