Faith Works 11-15-14
We gather together to ask
A week from tomorrow night, Sunday Nov. 23 at 7:00 pm, the Newark Area Ministerial Association will call together a Community Thanksgiving Service at Central Christian Church on Mt. Vernon Road. This ecumenical gathering will involve clergy from a number of churches in the area, and the message will be brought by Rev. Jeff Smith, chaplain at Licking Memorial Hospital.
As it happens, I'm the host pastor. While I try to keep promotion of my own congregation to a minimum in this space, this is less about Newark Central as it is the coming together of Christians in the Newark area, that just conveniently is going to be at 587 Mt. Vernon Rd. So I feel very free about saying "Come visit us!" for this purpose!
If you're in the Lakewood area, the Lakewood Area Ministerial Association is hosting a Thanksgiving service at the Jacksontown United Methodist Church on Nov. 23, also at 7:00 pm, with Pastor Kevin Blade of First Community Church in Buckeye Lake offering the message.
Other areas likely have their own, ask around!
Ecumenical means "within the family," loosely translated from the "oikonomos" which is the same Greek root from which we get economy and "oikoumene" which gets us closer to "household." One way or another, it implies existing connections of some sort, so an ecumenical gathering is one where there may be differences, but there are also definitive points of unity.
An interfaith gathering is a bit different, indicating that you have faiths without much direct connection internally, so you wouldn't call it ecumenical in general. More importantly, you wouldn't call a gathering of Baptists and Methodists and Presbyterians an interfaith event, no matter how different the externals are between them.
If you had an assembly consisting of a Jewish community, a Pagan gathering, and some Episcopalians, you'd either have an interfaith event, or the set up for a joke (if they were walking into a bar). But you wouldn't call that one ecumenical in nature.
In the post-World-War-II era in the United States, when ecumenical initiatives were new, proliferating, and starting to appear on a grassroots level, the "community Thanksgiving service" was the most accessible way of being ecumenical across the country. There might be ecumenism on a large scale in the big cities, but for most Americans, their first exposure to Christians working directly together was on the Sunday or Wednesday before that fourth Thursday of November.
Today we've got Habitat for Humanity and Church World Service and Samaritan's Purse with Operation Christmas Child . . . ecumenical Christian activities are all over the place. They show up in our neighborhoods building no-interest affordable housing, bring congregations together to load up seasonal shoeboxes for shipment overseas, and point us towards global concerns.
They're all grand collaborations, but they aren't at all the same as actually coming together in one place, our differences not blocking the doorway as we enter and share and sing and pray together. A community Thanksgiving service is still a very special way of honoring Christ's call "that they may all be one" in John 17, in a visible and tangible way.
So I'm delighted to be hosting this year; I've had the privilege of preaching for it before and probably will again some day. Our differences, as Christian bodies, in how we regard communion and redemption and mission are not trivial, but I've found that it's through honestly sharing and hearing about our differences that makes it easier for us to overcome them. Not to just sweep them away, but to worship together while having them, anyway.
Come be ecumenical with us, and if there are some interfaith guests in the congregation, it's all good! The unity is God's, and the community is something we can find as we turn, together, towards the source of our unity.
For which we would give thanks!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's honored to be pastor of Newark Central, the host of NAMA's Thanskgiving service this year. Tell him how you like to give thanks at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.