When Steven Dry applied to join the Council of Bishops’ Ecumenical Plunge (more formally the United Methodist Ecumenical and Interreligious Training group or UMEIT), he was thinking a bit about the unity within The United Methodist Church.
“I was Interested in the ways that Christians could come together in pursuit of higher-order concerns, specifically, justice-level things,” Dry said. “I think I was interested in what that would look like, especially as the church is in this flux; what might it look like for us to come together?”
Dry, 29, is a member of Harvard-Epworth UMC in Cambridge, MA. He was one of 10 young adults, each nominated by his or her bishop, to take part in this “deep dive on ecumenism.”
The plunge began with a two-week trip in July 2017 to visit the World Council of Churches and
followed by a week at the Taizé community in France. Participants will plan their own ecumenical experiences for the summer of 2018.
Dry said he felt the first week – which included the visit to the World Council of Churches and Bossey – was more educational than experiential.
“The first week was much more theoretical – institutions operate more on a theoretical basis,” he said. “They are setting the guidelines; they’re creating the structures within which we operate – but at the end of the day, everything has to come down to people and relationships.”
Dry said he felt “some good conversations came out of our bureaucratic forms of unity,” but connecting with people and building relationships came primarily during his visit to Taizé.
Before that visit, Dry said, he was inclined to believe The UMC should split.
“I would have said, let’s just divide,” he said. “Let’s have our own opinions, and that will be for the best because we’ll be pursuing shared missions and be able to just stop dealing with the things that are taking all the energy and resources from us, and instead focus on the work that we have to be doing in the world.”
But there is a real need for dialog, Dry said, not just in the church but in the world, and the church can only have a prophetic role in encouraging that dialog if it remains united.
“That there’s a certain value in us – with our diverse understanding of what Jesus said and what Christianity means – being able to come together and have conversations with each other, disagree on the things we disagree on, but also be in that dialog,” Dry said. “There’s a value in that dialog.”
It would be natural, perhaps, to separate, he said, “because we have differing views, but we are connected at a higher level …”
And demonstrating the value of that connection could offer something to a divided nation and world.
Dry said he’s grateful to the bishop and the conference for the opportunity to participate in the Ecumenical Plunge, and would definitely recommend the experience of Taizé for people who “are interested in discerning something or seeing how dialog and conversation can happen.”
“It’s not easy,” Dry said of the week at Taizé. “It is living at its simplest, and that doesn’t necessarily mean comfortable. There’s probably something there: Living in simplicity and in conversation and in dialog with others isn’t simple. It’s hard and uncomfortable, and yet I think it produces a lot of fruit personally and relationally.”
At this point, Dry is uncertain about what he will do for the second phase of the Ecumenical Plunge, but said that he’s “really interested in Christian-Muslim dialog for some obvious and less-obvious reasons.”
“The obvious being there’s quite a bit of misunderstanding and hostility toward Muslims in America,” he said, and he’d like to be better educated about Islam in order to “contribute to better, more productive conversations and help dispel myths.”
UMEIT is a ministry of The United Methodist Church Council of Bishops Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships. Traveling with the 10 participants were the Council of Bishops Ecumenical Officer Bishop B. Michael Watson, COB Ecumenical Staff Officer Rev. Dr. Jean Hawxhurst, and Fr. Jerry Cappel. Click the link to learn more.
Learn more about the New England Conference’s annual pilgrimage to Taizé.