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Ecumenical houses conjoined: J.E.S. and the North American Academy of Ecumenists.

The Journal of Ecumenical Studies' "Ecumenical News Notes" section debuted in the first volume's third issue (Fall, 1964) to apprise readers of foundations laid for significant and exuberant ecumenical initiatives on local, national, and international levels. Examples from the first two years of reporting include details about the first Hungarian Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue; the establishment of the Gustave Weigel Society in Washington, DC; the launching of the Eastern Churches Review, and planning for a single common Christian Pavilion for Montreal's 1967 World Exhibition (the Vatican would have no separate pavilion). The third issue of 1966 notified readers of concerted planning that was underway for the Inaugural Conference of the North American Academy of Ecumenists. (1) The second (spring) issue of 1967 provided details of the soon-to-transpire conference, this on the same page that informed of the success of the Paulist Press-supported "Living Room Dialogues" initiative. (2) The subsequent conference report was accompanied by a special editorial commentary by Journal co-editor Elwyn A. Smith: "Two years of preparatory work were consummated at Chicago on June 18, 1967, with the founding of the North American Academy of Ecumenists.... Throughout Christendom the house that ecumenism must live in is being built. The new Academy is spacious and well-joined." (3) Smith followed through in noting that the initial list of Academy members included "many leading ecumenical scholars and leaders known to the readers of this Journal.... In all, eleven of the Journal's authors and four of its associate editors participated in the founding of the Academy." (4)

Within two years the Journal and Academy became organizationally conjoined at the intersection of their core purposes. The Journal committed itself to the illumination "of subjects new to modern ecumenical conversation ... [and] aspects of faith and life which can improve our understanding of problems which now resist solution and reconciliation," (5) and the Academy applied itself to the provision of "channels for mutual professional assistance, technical information about recent ecumenical developments, and training opportunities for those who will be called upon to give guidance in ecumenical dialogue." (6) What follows here may be read as an extension of this author's 1998 study of the N.A.A.E's formative decade (7) and how the affiliated Academy and Journal together experienced and weathered the alternating updrafts and downdrafts in the prevailing ecumenical climate in North America through the subsequent decade-and-a-half.

In the course of a 1965 meeting, the Academy's planning architects engaged Smith about establishing the Journal as "in some sense, the organ of our association." (8) In March of 1966, at Notre Dame, both Smith and Journal co-editor Leonard Swidler were received as guests at an Academy Planning Committee meeting. The inaugural meeting of the N.A.A.E. convened with the Rev. William Top-moeller, S.J. (Loyola University, Chicago), chairing. Committees on courtesies and news releases presented their reports. The Constitution Committee provided a detailed review of its work. The sub-report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Future Programs, Publications, and Budget noted as follows:
   We heard a report on certain conversations that some of our members
   have had with the Journal of Ecumenical Studies. This revealed that
   a link with that distinguished Journal may be possible. The
   conversations thus far have been exploratory and have not yet
   obviously come to the state of formal proposal. Since this
   arrangement would entail definite financial arrangements as well as
   a formal link with the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, we recommend
   that the Executive Committee look further into the matter and when
   a proposal might take shape to bring it before the plenary assembly
   of the Academy. (9)


In late June of 1967, Smith wrote to Executive Member John W. Grant (Emmanuel College, Toronto), summarizing discussions to date. This summary included a proposal that the Executives Committee designate a representative to the Journal's editorial board in order to "represent the Academy's ties with the Journal in a more official way ... The Journal will, of course, carry regular records of the proceedings, activities, projects and publication of the Academy in an appropriate manner, and would function as the public record of the North American Academy of Ecumenists." (10) In a letter to Secretary-Treasurer Ralph D. Hyslop (Union Theological Seminary, New York), Smith expressed hope that the official Academy-Journal relationship would be taken up anew by the proper authorities and advanced in the responsibility of the Academy, benefiting by the previous discussions. Also, Smith affirmed that Swidler and he were favorable to an association "fundamentally because of the logic of the developing institutionalization of ecumenism." (11) In November Smith enclosed a copy of both of these letters in a mailing to J. Robert Nelson (Boston University School of Theology), the cover page reminding Nelson of the "widespread support" for the association expressed among the new members during the June meeting in Chicago. (12) Within this time period Smith sought to bolster the relationship by extending to Hyslop credentials to serve as the Journal's press representative at the World Council of Churches' Fourth Assembly in Uppsala scheduled for the following year. (13)

In December of 1968, negotiations regarding the details of the relationship proceeded to final agreement. In its first issue of the sixth volume (Winter, 1969), the Journal listed as its "Affiliated Societies" the College Theological Society and the North American Academy of Ecumenists. (The C.T.S. was no longer listed as such beginning in the eighth volume [1971].) Academy President Walter J. Burghardt, S.J. (Woodstock [MD] College), in a brief essay under the section "Affiliations News Notes," informed readers that "one highly practical step has been taken. The executive committee had long seen, with single and clear vision, that the NAAE would not be able to function properly without a journal of regular issue and high standard. A new periodical could not be justified professionally, nor could it be sustained financially. The solution was found in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies." (14)

In the second (Spring) issue of 1969, the Journal published in toto the proposal for an N.A.A.E. Board-sponsored volume of collected essays bearing the working title, "Ecumenical Perspectives of Theological Education." This publication project intended to explore the inherent ecumenical dimensions of the theological curriculum while providing a solid foundation for the teaching of ecumenics. The proposal text was accompanied by a letter from N.A.A.E. Secretary-Treasurer William J. Schmidt (New York Theological Seminary) soliciting commentary from readership on the proposal's content, plus recommendations for authors for the volume's various chapter areas: The North American Scene Today, Theology as an Ecumenical Enterprise, Ecumenism [in various discrete disciplines], The Seminary as an Ecumenical Community, and Ecumenical Aspects of Religious Studies Programs in Colleges and Universities. (15)

Regrettably, excitement about this publication effort could not cover over underlying symptoms of growing stress and instability within the executive "superstructure" of the Academy. Resignations due to pressing external demands, disruptive transfers, retirements, and physical illness hampered the ability of the Board of Directors to serve effectively. Compounding the negative situation, the common wall shared by the ecumenical houses was ill-fitted; the discrepancy in ways of reckoning a dues-paying "year" and a subscription "year" caused confusion and frustration among the Academy's membership. (16) The difficulties for both Academy and Journal were further magnified by a downturn in the momentum of the ecumenical movement. In the above-mentioned essay, Burghardt made note of the prevailing "ecumenical slump," as Albert Outler termed it, and proffered his personal perspective on the lamentable situation: "All too many have lost their initial enthusiasm. Their expectations were exuberantly high, the yield is depressingly low. They sense that they have not been led imaginatively, creatively, that love is still tightly yoked to law, that from such banality nothing can be born that is not banal, that can capture the flame in their hearts." (17)

In May of 1970, Burghardt informed the Executive Board that Corpus Christianum, the publisher that agreed to produce the Academy's projected book, had backed out of the agreement. He also informed them that he would not be able to attend the advertised fall conference in St. Louis because he needed to be in Rome for a meeting of the International Theological Commission. He polled the members of the Executive Committee on the questions, Should the St. Louis Conference be cancelled? If so, what is the future of the Academy? As the Academy was in imminent danger of total collapse, Burghardt stipulated an immediate response from each member. (18)

Nils Ehrenstrom (Boston University School of Theology) prefaced his response with news of his impending move to Europe that regrettably necessitated resignation from the Executive Committee. He advised postponing the conference to the following spring. The theme, he added, should relate to the growth of what he considered to be the most critical and divisive phenomenon affecting ecumenical approaches in theological education--the polarization between churchly and secular ecumenism. Finally, he noted: "Considering the prevailing unconcern and confusion about ecumenism in wide Christian circles, and our fragmentary understanding of its significance for the renewal of the Church and her mission in the world, I firmly believe that the concerns for which the Academy was founded are, not less, but more important and urgent than they were when we started in 1967." (19)

Topmoeller detailed a depressed, collapsing, and ghettoized ecumenical condition in his Midwest part of the country and opined that the ecumenical project in the future stood in danger of shrinking to the point of being equated simply with the study of bilateral documents by seminarians. He judged the newly published Part II of the Catholic Ecumenical Directory--on education for ecumenism--to be so verbose and general as to be more hindrance than remedy for the sad situation. "In fact," he suggested, "one job for the NAAE might be to write a good Part II!" (20)

Grant used the term "ecumenical recession" and cautioned that "over the next few years we may find the winds less favorable and may have to think less ambitiously." Nevertheless, he asserted the importance of going ahead with the announced conference. (21) To the mind of Nelson, despite the inadequate preparation time, to cancel the conference would be tantamount to willing the demise of the N.A.A.E. He recommended attachment as an "academic adjunct" to the National Workshop on Christian Unity as a possible "slender life line for the N.A.A.E. in these difficult years." His other strategic suggestions included volunteering to assist the National Council of the Churches of Christ in planning an upcoming Faith and Order Conference and application for membership in the American Academy of Religion with a mind to press for a section of ecumenists. (22)

Carl S. Meyer (Concordia Lutheran Seminary, St. Louis) expressed confidence that promoting the possibility of publication in J.E.S. would be a certain incentive for conference essayists. (23) Schmidt also advocated securing the publication of papers in J.E.S. as a prime component of a sustainability strategy. He expressed conviction that efforts invested in putting on a fall conference would be cost-effective for those who would endeavor to revive the N.A.A.E. in the future. (24)

That July, Burghardt communicated that "announcements of the death of the NAAE are premature," and stated that planning for the fall conference, small though it would be, should command the attention and energy of the Board. (25) At this time the book proposal became the conference prospectus. With great commitment and faith, the officers applied themselves to the practical matters of putting on a conference, and happen it did. Thirty people attended. Arthur B. Crabtree (Villanova University), the Academy's liaison to the Journal, wrote in his published conference report: "The N.A.A.E. is alive. Maybe barely.... This sudden reversal in the ecumenical tide during the past three years has inevitably affected the academy." He characterized Nelson's "witty but rigorously realistic" pulse-taking of both the ecumenical movement and the Academy as "perhaps the most significant address of the Conference." (26)

The conference, though humble in size, proved to be a powerful catalyst for hope and reinvigoration. The sense of "new birth" marked the discussion of the Executive Meeting a month after the St. Louis convocation. (27) The officers agreed to incorporate the Academy officially at its winter meeting that year. (28) In his published report of the 1971 conference, hosted by the Society of the Atonement at Graymoor, New York, Crabtree lauded the "invigorating" leadership of Nelson, the newly elected President. (29) The scope of undertakings widened significantly. The fourth conference in 1972 was the first in Canada (Port Credit, Ontario). Conference themes began to address the dynamics of racism, feminism, sexism, class, and culture. In 1975, in Cincinnati, ecumenism for democratic societies and Third World vs. First World priorities were subjected to scrutiny. "The Holy Spirit in the Churches and the World" constituted the subject for discussion in Montreal in 1977. In 1978, the membership had reached 191, with 158 Journal subscriptions. (30) Focus on the "world" continued the following year in Atlanta, with the theme "Church-Dividing Social Issues and the Search for Unity." In 1980, in Indianapolis, attention turned toward the future with the conference theme, "Towards a Truly Ecumenical Council."

The 1981 N.A.A.E. New York City conference was this observer's first experience of the Academy. It was co-sponsored with "EVENT," an organized continuation of a 1977 ecumenical consultation sponsored by Seton Hall University and the Consultation on Church Union. To remember that meeting at Seaman's Church Institute in lower Manhattan is to look backward to a gathering looking forward: Nearly 100 assembled Academy members applied themselves to the theme, "Toward the Year 2000: Steps and Stages toward Unity." Keynoter Dr. Cynthia Wedel, one of the presidents of the World Council of Churches, infused hope and promise beyond the perceived ecumenical doldrums. God, she said, "may be calling the Christian churches to a form of sainthood," to a witness in the world that would draw people to renewed love for one another, expressed both structurally and institutionally. She reminded participants that Christians have received an agenda of hope and promise that must be concretized in and through cultural forms and social institutions, including politics and government. (31)

The Rev. Thomas Stransky, former president of the Paulist Fathers and veteran ecumenist, enumerated new resources of energy and challenges: the development of new coalitions by which individuals and groups were entering the ecumenical arena; the development of "para-churches," which do not pretend or wish to be "churches" according to the usual North American mold; a new realignment of typologies as the classical East-West and Reformation-Roman typologies were breaking down and being replaced by a North-South orientation; and the sudden emergence of "new and fluid confessional lines across the traditional denominational lines." Finally, he professed faith in the "recuperative power" of the ecumenical movement.

Dr. Peggy Shriver, an Assistant General Secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., drew attention to a growing restlessness among young church members and the spread of spiritual hunger; she also observed that being "unchurched" in America does not necessarily mean being unreligious or irreligious. As LaFontaine reported on her address:
   In addition, there has been a virtual revolution in personal moral
   attitudes and behavior, thus posing a ... challenge to church
   authority and church teaching. All of these trends are both
   negative and positive from the viewpoint of their meaning for the
   churches and church unity. Nonetheless, 'this is an age for
   ecumenism," ... [N]ow is the time for churches to speak to current
   issues and concerns, together and not separately.... "We must be
   more honest with one another about our doubts, anxieties, and
   failures," she suggested, "in order to be credible to those who are
   engaged in the religious and spiritual search for value and meaning
   today." (32)


Dr. Lewis Mudge (Dean of McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago) expressed confidence that with growth in shared values, visions, meaning, and spirits, the structures will take care of themselves. Unity by means of consensus documents may not be the way unless such documents reflect a sensus fidelium, the sense of what the People of God as a whole believe. The function of the ecumenical theologian is to reflect critically on the sensus fidelium and return such reflection to the churches for response and reaction. The Rev. John Meyendorff (St. Vladimir's Theological Seminary, Crestwood, New York) cautioned that, in discussing the content and form of an ecumenical conciliar celebration in 2000, more thought should be invested in determining just what a council is and has been. A council does not create unity but, rather, expresses it.

Dr. William Lazareth (director of the Commission on Faith and Order for the World Council of Churches) spoke of the need to forge linkage between the ecumenical agenda and the engagement of Christians in work for human justice and human dignity. If the work for church unity is carried out apart from work for the renewal of humankind, he noted, each will become irrelevant to the other and to the world.

Speaking of his own church, Dr. Michael Fahey, S.J. (Concordia University, Montreal), registered the need for Roman Catholics first to qualify for participation in a general assembly of Christians by overcoming a "paralysis of imagination" suffered since Vatican II, becoming more faithful to their ecumenical commitment and mission, and facing up to the "shady" side of their church, such as a mechanistic understanding of sacraments, subtle clericalism, harshness in the face of diversity, a lack of intellectual adventurism, passivity in worship, and the neglect of Bible study.

In his 1985 J.E.S. essay, "What Ought the North American Academy of Ecumenists to Be?" Crabtree advocated the widest possible ecumenical scope. Here, he challenged the Academy to invest thought beyond matters pertaining to inter-Christian, interreligious, and interhuman relations: The "conditio sine qua non of future ecumenism" in an ecological age involves attending to human relations "with the whole biosphere," (33) From the perspective of 2014, Academy-sponsored observations and identification of concerns were indeed keen, incisive, and prophetic.

The Academy and Journal interrelationship has endured but has not gone untested. In the early 1990's, a special committee of the Academy's Board subjected to methodical review a neuralgic issue present from the beginning, namely, the amount of attention and space the Journal dedicates to interreligious concerns at the expense of that given to intra-Christian engagement. Understandings regarding this issue have since been operatively stabilized. That the Journal published in a timely manner a "Special N.A.A.E. Section" consisting of the papers read and discussed at the Academy's 2012 Annual Fall Conference (on the legacy of the Second Vatican Council, held at the Atlantic School of Theology, Halifax, Nova Scotia) serves to maintain the soundness of the relationship. (34)

This historical study closes with a quotation of Nelson's concluding sentence from the revised-for-publication form of his 1970 St. Louis conference address referenced in Crabtree's report, above: "What we hope for is not merely the survival of a religious phenomenon called ecumenism ... It is the hope in the redemptive and vivifying work of God in Jesus Christ for all mankind; and insofar as we see and believe the role of the Church in this work, we are committed in faith to the ecumenical cause." (35) Committed members of the N.A.A.E/J.E.S conjoined ecumenical houses continue to live in that hope.

(1) "The North American Academy of Ecumenists," J.E.S. 3 (Fall, 1966): 626.

(2) "The North American Academy of Ecumenists," J.E.S. 4 (Spring, 1967): 362; Patricia D. Covey, "Living Room Dialogues," J.E.S. 4 (Spring, 1967): 362-363.

(3) Elwyn Smith, "The North American Academy of Ecumenists," J.E.S. 4 (Summer, 1967): 485.

(4) Ibid.

(5) The Editors, "The Purpose of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies," J.E.S. I (Winter, 1964): iii.

(6) Program flyer, "Inaugural Conference: North American Academy of Ecumenists: June 17-19, 1967" (in author's possession). Through a mailing in the winter of 1997 and another in the spring of 1998, J. Robert Nelson entrusted this author with two packets of original and copied correspondence and documents from his terms as an Academy officer, totaling about 140 pages. Materials from the two packets will henceforth be identified as "Nelson papers."

(7) Joseph Loya, "The North American Academy of Ecumenists: The Story of Its Establishment (1957-1967)," J.E.S. 35 (Summer-Fall, 1998): 319-340. A summary of the history, as epitomized from details from that study and from the "Inaugural Conference" program flyer, reads as follows: A pilot consultation of about fifty professors who were conscious of the far-reaching implications of the ecumenical movement for higher theological education met in conjunction with the first North American Faith and Order Conference convened in Oberlin, Ohio, in 1957. The consulting members elected a small Continuation Committee, with Dr. Charles L. Taylor as Chair and Professor Robert Tobias as Secretary. The professors' concerns were discussed and promoted in meetings in Denver (1960) and Montreal (1963), from which Dr. Nils Ehrenstrom began to serve as Chair, Professor Charles K. Van Euw and Dean Alexander Schmemann as Vice-Chairs, and Dr. John W. Grant as Secretary. Pursuant to a decision at Montreal, the Continuation Committee circularized deans and superiors of Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox seminaries, as well as many seminary and university instructors known to be ecumenically committed, for their opinions about the usefulness and possible functions of a professional association. Replies indicated a widespread desire for such an association. Responding to this mandate, a special Planning Committee was formed to be responsible for laying the groundwork of an inaugural assembly, a constituent conference to be held in the Chicago area in 1967 on the theme, "Training of Trainers for Dialogue."

(8) "North American Teachers of Ecumenics: Minutes of Continuation Committee, December 29-31, 1965," cited in ibid., p. 334.

(9) "Report of the North American Academy of Ecumenists: Sub-report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Future Program, Publication, and Budget," cited in ibid., p. 336.

(10) Letter from Elwyn A. Smith to Dr. John W. Grant, June 22, 1967; William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives: North American Academy of Ecumenists Records, Series 2, Box 6, Folder 3, The Burke Library Archives (Columbia University Libraries) at Union Theological Seminary, New York (hereafter, Brown Archives).

(11) Letter from Elwyn A. Smith to Prof. Ralph D. Hyslop, June 23, 1967; Brown Archives, Series 2, Box 6, Folder 3.

(12) Letter from Elwyn A. Smith to Prof. J. Robert Nelson, November 7, 1967; Nelson papers.

(13) Letter from Elwyn A. Smith to Prof. Ralph D. Hyslop, November 10, 1967; Brown Archives, Series 2, Box 6, Folder 3.

(14) Walter J. Burghardt, S.J., "Message from the President," J.E.S. 6 (Winter, 1969): 159.

(15) "North American Academy of Ecumenists," J.E.S. 6(Spring, 1969): 321-324.

(16) The issue was recognized and discussed at an Executive Board Meeting, January 24, 1970, "Minutes"; Brown Archives, Series 1, Box 4, Folder 7.

(17) Burghardt, "Message from the President," p 159.

(18) Letter from Walter Burghardt, S. J., to "Dear Fellow Officers," May 25, 1970; Nelson papers.

(19) Letter from Nils Ehrenstrom to the Rev. Professor Walter J. Burghardt, S.J., June 2, 1970; Nelson papers.

(20) Letter from William G. Topmoeller to the Rev. Walter J. Burghardt, S.J., June 1, 1970; Nelson papers. In limning the ecumenical landscape of his region, Topmoeller related that attendance at a major ecumenical program at Loyola University the previous fall was abysmal, reporting that "not even seminary professors and students or pastors turned out." Enrollment for his weekly seminar had declined from a high of 58 in 1968 to nine in 1970 and the sponsoring Association of Chicago Theological Schools seemed intent on dropping them. The Interreligious Council for Urban Affairs in Chicago had passed out of existence, and the Director of the Church Federation of Greater Chicago went on record as saying that the future of the Federation was seriously in doubt. Topmoeller offered to do local ecumenical programming for a half-dozen ministerial associations, but he reported being rebuffed with the response, "We haven't time for more meetings!" He remarked on the "waning interest" in ecumenism as concerns shifted to "racial problems, student unrest and other issues." In his judgment, moral, sociological, and economic questions commanded more interest.

(21) Letter from John Webster Grant to the Rev. Walter J. Burghardt, S.J., May 28, 1970; Nelson papers.

(22) Letter from J. Robert Nelson to the Rev. W. J. Burghardt, S. J., May 28,1970; Nelson papers.

(23) Letter from Carl S. Meyer to the Rev. Walter J. Burghardt, S.J., May 28, 1970; Nelson papers.

(24) Letter from William J. Schmidt to the Rev. Walter J Burghardt, S.J., June 3, 1970; Nelson papers.

(25) Letter from Walter J. Burghardt to William J. Schmidt, July 7, 1970; Brown Archives, Series 2, Box 8, Folder 1.

(26) Arthur B. Crabtree, "North American Academy of Ecumenists: Biennial Meeting, 1970," J.E.S. 1 (Fall, 1970): 913-917.

(27) "Executive Board Meeting, November 17, 1970"; Brown Archives, Series 2, Box 8, Folder 1.

(28) William J. Schmidt, "North American Academy of Ecumenists," J.E.S. 8 (Winter, 1971): 216.

(29) A. B. Crabtree, "North American Academy of Ecumenists Report of Third Conference," J.E.S. 9 (Winter, 1972): 226.

(30) Board Report, September 20, 1979; Brown Archives, Series 1, Box 1, Folder 2.

(31) This and the following paper summations are taken from Charles LaFontaine, S.A., "1981 Conference of North American Academy of Ecumenists," J.E.S. 18 (Fall, 1971): 712-716.

(32) Ibid., p. 713.

(33) Arthur B. Crabtree, editorial, "What Ought the North American Academy of Ecumenists to Be?" J.E.S. 22 (Winter, 1985): 135 and 120.

(34) "Special Section on 'The Ecumenical Legacy of the Second Vatican Council, 50 Years Later,'" J.E.S. 48 (Spring, 2013): 145-219.

(35) J. Robert Nelson, "What Hope for Ecumenism?" J.E.S. 8 (Fall, 1971): 920.
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Title Annotation:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Author:Loya, Joseph
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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