Earlier this summer, the second in-person meeting of the ninth round of U.S. Roman Catholic-Reformed Ecumenical Dialogue took place in Chicago, with participants continuing to discuss areas of possible cooperation related to justice.

Attending the meeting at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Center were participants from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ, Reformed Church in America, Christian Reformed Church in North America and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Representing the 225th General Assembly were Karen Petersen Finch, an ecumenical theologian, and Dianna Wright, Director of Ecumenical Relations in the Office of the General Assembly.

Participants at the U.S. Roman Catholic-Reformed Ecumenical Dialogue, Chicago, June 2023. Photo courtesy of Dianna Wright.

Participants at the U.S. Roman Catholic-Reformed Ecumenical Dialogue, Chicago, June 2023. Photo courtesy of Dianna Wright.

Earlier in-person and online gatherings, including one from late last year, set the agenda for the meeting, with many discussions taking deep dives into the theological understandings of justification and justice across Roman Catholic and Reformed churches. The group also continued to discuss baptism, the Eucharist, mission and ministry.

The meeting agenda lists discussion leaders and topics spanning the three-day gathering, including:

  • Steven Lopes and Monica Schaap-Pierce on “The Lay of the Land”
  • Clair Mesick on “Biblical Background to Justification and Justice”
  • Ronald J. Feenstra and Dennis E. Tamburello on “Justification, Justice and Pneumatology in ‘These Living Waters’
  • Steven Lopes and David Stubbs on “The Indexing of Liturgical Resources and the Relationship of Liturgical Resources to Restorative Justice”
  • Karen Lebacqz, “On Justification and Justice”
  • Karen Petersen Finch on “Justice Making as Self-Offering, Empowered by the Eucharist”

To prepare for the meeting, attendees read papers and reports from previous dialogue gatherings, examining them for ways Roman Catholic and Reformed traditions understand justice as an expression of their theology and worship. As Finch wrote in notes about the discussion she led, which focused on “This Bread of Life,” “To make justice, we must lay ourselves down to amplify the wellbeing of others — especially the least of these — according to the pattern of Jesus that we celebrate [in the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper].”

“Like the PC(USA)’s other ecumenical and interreligious dialogues, this conversation has been taking place a long time,” Wright said. Acknowledging that significant obstacles keep Christians from the Reformed and Roman Catholic traditions from agreeing on central aspects of worship and theology, she said areas of cooperation are still numerous and of special importance to ministry at the congregational level.

“We must focus on things we can agree on,” Wright said about the dialogue meetings. “How can Reformed and Catholic churches be a strong presence in the same communities?”

She said the recent pandemic made it clear to people of all religions and creeds that there is a great need for collaborative approaches to justice in the world. Churches can play a positive role in supporting such movements nationally, internationally and locally.

“Even as we have theological conversations, can we find ways we connect to God and scripture and make an impact in the world?” Wright asked. “How can we work together in ways that do not interfere with our basic beliefs and theology that help us be God’s hands and feet in the world?”

For Presbyterians interested in participating in the U.S. Roman Catholic-Reformed Ecumenical Dialogue, Wright pointed out there is an opening on the committee tasked with that work.

“We’re looking for a theologian to join the group representing the Presbyterian and Reformed perspective,” Wright said. Anyone interested can click the following link to find out more, or to nominate yourself or another person: https://ganominations.pcusa.org/

The next meeting of the U.S. Roman Catholic-Reformed Ecumenical Dialogue is scheduled for November 2-3, with an online format.