The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its antecedent churches have been at the forefront of local, regional, national, and global ecumenism for more than a century. Presbyterians have been ready to reflect on, pray for, and organize ecumenical initiatives in the life of the worldwide body of Christ and respond to the initiatives of others. From discussions of organic union to the formation of councils of churches, from common efforts in evangelism and mission to upholding concerns for justice and social service, Presbyterians have been deeply involved in the ecumenical work and witness of the church. The Presbyterian church has put considerable material, spiritual, and personnel resources into the ecumenical movement, working to “listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” and respond in creative ways to our ecumenical calling.
In 1975 and 1981, the Presbyterian Church in the United States and the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America held ecumenical consultations that were important milestones on this ecumenical journey. No such consultation had ever been held in the PC(USA). In 2006, the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical Relations (GACER) decided it was time to call for a new churchwide consultation on the ecumenical stance of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Giving thoughtful and prayerful attention to new directions in ecumenism, as well as to the historic Presbyterian commitment to conciliar ecumenical organizations, the GACER believed the PC(USA) should go beyond the ecumenical vision statement approved by the 212th General Assembly (2000).
The mandate of the consultation was “to review our ecumenical vision and construct an ecumenical stance and policy to guide the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) staff and elected bodies for the next ten years.” To this end, the consultation of September 27–29, 2007, reviewed the biblical and confessional basis of Presbyterian ecumenical commitment, provided a historical overview of the ecumenical journey, surveyed the changing ecumenical landscape, assessed the PC(USA)’s ecumenical experience in the past decade, and explored the new challenges the church faces in this area. On the basis of the findings of the September 2007 consultation, recommendations were made to the GACER. (The list of participants may be found in Appendix A.) In this way, the consultation sought to renew our church’s commitment to ecumenical engagement in the 21st century and set a framework for its ecumenical endeavors, taking account of the new contextual challenges and opportunities present.
Because the purpose of the consultation was to create policy for the ecumenical stance of the PC(USA)—the relationship of the PC(USA) to other Christian churches—participants did not systematically address interfaith relations or the connection between ecumenical involvement and Christian mission. Yet, these two concerns pressed in upon the conversation repeatedly, since they are significant concerns closely related to ecumenism. There was particular energy in the conversation relating to interfaith relations and a strong sense that this topic will need to be addressed more fully in another forum.