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Program in Ecumenical Studies and Formation is equipping ecumenical leaders to be artisans of reconciliation

The Program for Ecumenical Studies and Formation was held June 20-23, 2017 at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Saskatoon, with Natasha Klukach and Father Tom Ryan as visiting scholars. For more information, visit the website at or call 306-653-1633 or e-mail: programs [at]

Equipping Ecumenical Leaders

By Dr. Darren Dahl, Executive Director, Prairie Centre for Ecumenism 

We are giving shape to ‘artisans of reconciliation’. This beloved phrase of Archbishop Donald Bolen speaks well to the goals of the Program in Ecumenical Studies and Formation offered by the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism in Saskatoon. 

While it is often acknowledged that we now live in an ecumenical church, it is equally true that this presents a new set of challenges. For the most part, the days of deep denominational divisions are behind us, at least at the daily level. Within our circles of friends and family it is common to have numerous denominational identities unspokenly present and, in many cases, we do not even know to which religious community our neighbours and coworkers belong. As more and more congregations and their leaders share programs across neighbourhoods and within cities, ecumenical friendships flourish. There is much in this ecumenical church for which we ought to give thanks. There are also some new challenges. 

Perhaps the most significant and yet insidious challenge posed by our new ecumenical sensibilities is ecumenical indifference. Such indifference operates on many levels and can produce hurtful outcomes in several ways. 

For example, at the heart of such indifference is a basic misunderstanding about the concrete identities of Christian communities. This can very quickly evacuate all depth from what it means to be Christian. For example, I have too frequently heard it said that all Christians should and can ‘get along’, because, after all, ‘we’re all the same’. Not only does such an idea remove all that is rich and important in the actual experience of Christian diversity, it can very quickly become offensive. 

As an Anglican or a Catholic, I do not want to hear that my hymnody, liturgy or creedal beliefs are mere ornaments to be sloughed off with appeals to a lowest common denominator that makes me ‘the same’ as my neighbour. 

On the contrary, I want to know that what I love about my tradition and what my neighbour loves about hers makes us both richer when we can be together as Christians in that difference. That kind of life together, however, is not reducible to ‘sameness’ and certainly requires more than a passive ecumenical friendship. 

Ecumenical indifference can also become hurtful when we move from casual friendships to experiences of worshipping together, particularly in those cases where worship is bound up with a significant life event such as a wedding or a funeral. Examples of such hurtful situations frequently arise around the practice of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. 

Sadly it is not that uncommon to see families, for whom denominational identity is not the kind of divisive issue it might have been two generations ago, gather at a funeral or wedding only to find ecumenical boundaries become occasions for misunderstanding and resentment. If I think that ‘we’re all the same’, those boundaries are going to hurt all the more. Into this experience the idea that, we as Christians are still on the way to reconciliation, still in need of recognizing places where divisions must be overcome, will be a foreign one. And yet, this ecumenical church is a church where great fellowship is lived in the midst of real boundaries that must be acknowledged and addressed with sensitivity, theological sophistication, and pastoral skill. 

The Program in Ecumenical Studies and Formation offered every June in Saskatoon, is designed to equip leaders and persons in the pew with that much-needed ecumenical sensitivity, theological sophistication, and pastoral skill. 

With a dual emphasis on ‘study’ and ‘formation’, the Program seeks to educate Christians in ways of thinking and acting that have emerged thanks to the dedicated efforts of the ecumenical movement, placing them within an ecumenical community throughout this process. Participants learn about ecumenism while they practice it. 

The first year of the Program introduces students to the questions and concerns at the heart of an ecumenical church: what does it mean to be ‘church’ when my Christian sisters and brothers with whom I gather think differently not only about the sacraments, but about ‘church’ itself? How do we read the Bible together from our different histories, theologies, and traditions? What is at the core of our spiritual lives that draws us together in unity? How did we get to this place—not only in terms of our denominational divisions but also in respect to the ecumenical movement itself? Finally, and even more basically, what kinds of language do ecumenists use and how can this language help us to live well in an ecumenical church. 

When participants return for their second and third sessions in the two subsequent summers, their exploration of the ecumenical church is deepened. These years are dedicated to a study of ecumenical dialogues—not only the results of actual dialogues on the topics of Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry, and Authority but, more importantly, on the way theology is done dialogically in the ecumenical church. 

For these sessions the Program brings in two nationally and internationally recognized visiting scholars. Since launching the Program in 2014, the calibre of our visiting scholars has been enviably high: Dr. Catherine Clifford in 2014, Rev. Dr. Timothy George and Sr. Dr. Donna Geernaert in 2015, Rev. Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan and Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon in 2016. This year the visiting scholars were Rev. Tom Ryan and Natasha Klukach. 

Rev. Tom Ryan is author or co-author of fourteen books, former Director of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism, and currently the Director of the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Washington, DC. Natasha Klukach is a former Ecumenical Officer for the Anglican Church of Canada and is now a Program Executive with responsibility for Church and Ecumenical Relations with the World Council of Churches. (See articles below). 

As well as learning from the expertise and experiences of our visiting scholars, participants have the opportunity to interact with them around table discussions, during meals, and at breaks. This is­ an excellent opportunity to be introduced to the study of ecumenism with some of the most prominent ecumenical leaders today. 

The Program in Ecumenical Studies and Formation is forming ‘artisans of reconciliation’. As Program participants and instructors gather for one week at the end of the June over three years there takes place the opportunity for ecumenical learning and formation. A community is created, friendships are established, and the work of giving shape to an ecumenical church occurs. 

We give thanks that God is working great healing in a church divided and we respond to that healing with an ever-firmer resolve to equip leaders to serve well and truly in an ecumenical church. 

For more information about the Prairie Centre’s Program in Ecumenical Studies and Formation please see our website at or contact programs [at] or 306-653-1633.



2017 Program in Ecumenical Studies and Formation includes public lecture by Natasha Klukach


By Kate O’Gorman 

Over four days in June 2017, the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism (PCE) once again presented their annual Program in Ecumenical Studies and Formation in Saskatoon. 

The three-year accredited program offers clergy and lay people from every Christian tradition an opportunity to increase in knowledge about the ecumenical movement. As in former years, the PCE brought in exceptional international visiting scholars to lead participants through the inner workings of the ecumenical dialogical process. 

One of those scholars, Natasha Klukach – a lay theologian of the Anglican Church of Canada and Programme Executive of the World Council of Churches – presented a public lecture June 20 at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church on the process of building consensus through ecumenical dialogue. Specifically, Klukach spoke about the process leading to the adoption of a unity statement in Busan, Republic of Korea, by the World Council of Churches (WCC), entitled God’s Gift and Call to Unity and Our Commitment

“Our ecumenical life is informed, inspired and enriched by statements and texts that show agreement between churches on important theological doctrines and issues. These kinds of documents emerge after years, even decades of dialogue, study and writing,” Klukach affirmed. She explained that the dialogue process must demonstrate an attitude of openness and humility and dedicate itself to really listening to the other; it must engage in self-examination and it must try to find agreement or mutual theological recognition. 

“It means being gracious and generous where there is still disagreement, and finding ways to express it carefully,” described Klukach. 

Each dialogue process and each text “begins with a blank page and a group of people with lots of ideas. Behind the final product are a lot of lessons,” she explained. “The best of these texts opens our eyes to what God is accomplishing in those who are different from ourselves and how openness to God’s gift of unity can bridge divisions and heal what is broken.” 

With this in mind, Klukach identified four essential elements of consensus building – vision, process, people, and mutual accountability – as reflected in the dialogical process behind the unity statement adopted by the WCC in 2013.

Regarding vision, the statement had some fundamental objectives for its message, which were common to its predecessors, she said. “The document needed to say something about present realities; identify the resources of our common heritage as Christians and as ecumenists; and name how the call to unity is and can be manifest today,” Klukach described. “It was also important for the statement, as a kind of milestone in the ecumenical movement, to draw inspiration from the tenth assembly of the WCC’s theme – God of Life, Lead Us to Justice and Peace – and to contribute something to that spirit of prayer.”   

However, as Klukach went on to describe, she noted that the visioning stage requires more than just knowing the theological focus of the dialogue. 

“Knowing that you have come together in dialogue to ultimately say something profound demands that you identify together what other qualities should be present and what you hope to accomplish.” This is the heart of reception, she explained: anticipating how you envision your work being received by others and the kind of impact you hope to achieve. 

“We wanted [the unity statement] to be read broadly and not be so complicated that its appeal would be limited to more academic settings. We wanted it to be theologically sound, scripturally based, not too long and very readable. We wanted it to be as applicable to the life of the church as to the life of an individual reader. Developing a common understanding of a vision drew the group together. It solidified our commitment to the task. It rooted us to reality and to what was legitimately feasible, but it also let us dream big and imagine what could be possible with our words.” 

The members of the dialogue team had a timeline of approximately 20 months to complete the dialogical process “from blank page to floor of the assembly, where the statement would have to be adopted through full consensus of over 800 delegates representing the 348 member churches of the WCC,” she described. Klukach explained that “getting process right is one of the most important components in trying to find consensus on something so important as the unity of church.” 

She added: “The relational nature of ecumenism requires trust, and it requires investment. You must design and follow a methodology for your work that is transparent, fair and logical; has space for flexibility, places reasonable limits on the investment of time place on those who are asked to do the work; and allows the maximum amount of opportunity for feedback on drafts and face-to-face discussion and editing time.”

“You cannot write a statement about unity,” highlighted Klukach, “unless you can create the dynamics in the room that exemplify your message. When people trust the process, they are more likely to be open to the message. Process and methodology follow from the vision and as the ecumenical movement further evolves, we see more and more how utterly important that is.” 

In addition to vision and process, a diverse selection of people is important in forming dialogue drafting groups, she said. “A crucial lesson about the ecumenical process is this: who is and who isn’t around the table matters.”

Klukach went on to explain that “reception isn’t just about the content of the final text. An ecumenical document gains credibility and acceptance because of who helped write it.” In response to this lesson, Klukach identified herself as an unapologetic, outspoken advocate for having balanced demographic representation within global ecumenical dialogue groups. 

“How much better would [the dialogue process] be for those underrepresented voices to speak for themselves and to be inside the room and to change the way we are doing ecumenical theology? The dialogue table should appropriately reflect the diversity of the Body of Christ around the world.” 

The drafting team of the WCC unity statement included individuals from the United Kingdom, Canada, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa, Tanzania, India, Ukraine and Turkey. The youngest was in her twenties and the oldest participant was in her eighties. There were five women and five men, plus Klukach as the staff representative of the WCC. The team additionally drew in advisors from the Roman Catholic Church and had representation from important constituencies including Indigenous voices and youth. All members of the drafting group had studied theology but in different areas and to different degrees. 

“It was an incredible group of people,” she said. “And cultivating strong relationships was essential to our success. We had to strike a balance between introducing the task as well as building trust and fellowship. Our structure, tone and content was determined by the relationships that were forged between very, very diverse people. A professional ecumenist must consider all the ways a diverse group can share time together, such that the work is accomplished while embodying the very spirit and commitment to unity that we ultimately hope is conveyed in the published statement.” 

The most difficult part of the ecumenical process is working through content disagreements, always in a spirit of mutual accountability. “Pushing the ecumenical movement forward means difficult conversations” explains Klukach. “The question becomes, how do you cultivate the ecumenical attitude so that can withstand disagreement and facilitate consensus?” 

In ecumenism, mutual accountability is based on a fundamental commitment to seek the full, visible unity of the church: as the WCC constitution says, “we intend to stay together.” Given that understanding, churches agree that they will hold each other accountable to that commitment, she said. 

“It means being completely invested in relationship as churches such that we will do all that we can to be critical when needed and be open to receiving criticism ourselves when we move away from our commitments. It means being open to new or different ways of thinking about and expressing theology.” 

According to Klukach, the conflict that emerges in the ecumenical dialogical process leads to a more sensitive and constructive effort to acknowledge our places of division and hurt. In reference to seeking consensus on the unity statement in Busan, Klukach said, “We knew we could not satisfy everyone but knowing that we were accountable for our actions, we listened, we prayed, we redrafted and we asked for the trust of the assembly that we had honestly done the best we could. The moderator carefully steered through the conflicts one by one, affirming to everyone that they had been heard and their objection recorded, but ultimately asked if they could consent to the final text. Finally, the assembly did adopt the text by consensus and the assembly - not the drafters or the WCC staff - achieved agreement. In that moment, 800 people representing 348 member churches – that’s 600 million Christians around the world from every corner of the earth came together to speak of their passionate desire for God’s church to live in unity.” 

The unity statement passed and entered into the WCC’s ecumenical history and trajectory of consensus documents. 

For Klukach, these four elements – vision, process, people, and mutual accountability – “lie at the heart of the ecumenical calling and provide the groundwork for ecumenical reception. The dialogue process for the Busan Unity Statement was “an eventful journey of hard work, celebrations and challenges, fear, tension and ultimately joyous acclimation on the floor of the World Council assembly,” said Klukach. 

“All of us involved with this text were changed in the making of it. It is an assertive ecclesiological statement that demands much from the church in repentance for the pain of disunity and in its commitment to be a prophetic sign to the life God intends for all,” Klukach said. 

“This text is grounded in real encounter, spiritual insight and harvested wisdom. The gift of contextual theology is that is legitimates and honours the experiences of people wherever they may be and this is so important if we are to understand a common understanding of the unity that we seek.” 

With degrees from the University of Toronto, Queen’s University and Trinity College, University of Toronto, Klukach is now furthering her research of the contemporary ecumenical movement writing a doctoral dissertation at King’s College London. 


Fr. Thomas Ryan part of ecumenical formation program in June 2017

By Kate O’Gorman 

Fr. Thomas Ryan, a Catholic priest and member of the Paulist Fathers, gave a public lecture during the Program in Ecumenical Studies and Formation (PESF) banquet June 22, which was hosted by the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism (PCE).

As one of two internationally-recognized visiting scholars teaching within the PESF during the third week of June, Ryan spoke to banquet attendees about the importance and necessity of ecumenical work. 

Ryan began by expressing his great pleasure in being part of this year’s PESF. “I want to affirm the work of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism and all that it is doing to bring Christians together.” 

The PCE opened its doors and began working toward Christian Unity in 1984 and as Ryan expressed, “Happily, much has been achieved over the last few decades. Separated Christians no longer regard one another as strangers, competitors or even enemies but as brothers and sisters in Christ.” Ryan went on to say that Christians now “pray together, we give witness together to our common faith and in many fields, we work prosperously together.” 

“Nevertheless,” continued Ryan, “in the last decade it seems Christians are expressing a sense of tiredness, or disillusionment and stagnation in Christian unity efforts. The dialogues and meetings, visits and correspondences continue but one justifiably asks: where is the forward movement? Situations and movements seem to have changed: it is pragmatism, not unity that is the prime value today. Yet, the fact remains that we Christians still have our work to do and we need to keep advancing our own unity as Christians.” 

For the last 37 years, Ryan has served as an ambassador for Christian unity in Canada and the US. “In order to stay inspired over that length of time, working for a cause when visible results are slow in coming, one needs some substantive motivating reasons to keep on,” commented Ryan. 

He continued by offering five fundamental reasons why our unity with one another is important and worthy of our time, our energy and our resources. 

Number one is Jesus Christ, he said. “In Jesus’ final hours with his disciples at the last supper, the message he leaves with them has the character of a last will and testament. Jesus says, in John 17, ‘Father, I pray for those who believe in me. May they all be one as you Father are in me and I in you, may they be one in us so that the world may believe.’ There’s no doubting the centrality in Jesus’ priorities and values for his followers,” explained Ryan. 

He continued by quoting Pope John Paul II, who in his encyclical, On commitment for Ecumenism writes: “It is absolutely clear that ecumenism, the movement promoting Christian unity, is not just some sort of ‘appendix’ which is added to the Church’s traditional activity. Rather, ecumenism is an organic part of her life and work, and consequently must pervade all that she is and does.” 

Ryan explained further that “concern for restoring unity pertains to the whole church, faithful and clergy alike. It extends to everyone according to the ability of each. Christ calls everyone to renew their commitment to work for full and visible communion of Jesus’ followers.” 

The second substantive and motivating reason that keeps Ryan engaged in the furthering the work of ecumenism is the teaching of apostles. 

“The theme of Jesus’ Last Supper prayer for the unity of his followers is picked up by his closest associates and is expressed in a variety of images in their own writings and teachings. In the Letters to the Ephesians and to the Corinthians, Paul continually places emphasis on ‘one’.” 

Ryan offered 1 Corinthians 12, among other passages, as a scriptural reference for this emphasis, which speaks of the one Body of Christ with its many members. “Faithful to the biblical mandate expressed in these scriptural passages” explained Ryan, “the World Council of Churches states that the goal of the ecumenical movement ‘is to call one another to visible unity in one faith and in one eucharistic fellowship expressed in worship and in common life in Christ, through witness and service to the world, and to advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe.’” 

A third motivation for our continued work towards Christian unity is what Ryan called the “credibility of the Gospel.” 

Christian lack of unity presents a great obstacle for the proclamation of the Gospel, explained Ryan. “The essential message of the Gospel is that we are reconciled with God and with one another through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the primary mission of the Church is to carry that message out to the world.” If our Christian mission is not unified, the shared Gospel message we proclaim loses its credibility, he said. “Evangelism and ecumenism are two sides of one coin. We can’t effectively promote that Good News when we are divided among ourselves.” 

A fourth substantive reason for remaining engaged in ecumenism according to Ryan is the Trinity. A way of understanding the triune God is to “conceive of the Trinity as life in community. A community of persons made up of diverse gifts and missions, all of whom love, honour and respect one another.” 

Here, Ryan highlighted the importance of recognizing the diversity that exists within the unity Christians seek. “God’s own life in community is a model for our life in the community of the Church and the overarching characteristic of God’s Trinitarian life is unity in diversity.” This diversity, explained Ryan, “is a dimension of the Church’s catholicity – its universality.” 

Finally, Ryan outlined the vocation of the Church as the fifth motivation for staying faithful to the work of ecumenism. “A key concept of what the Church essentially is – one that emerges from the bilateral and multilateral dialogues, as well as from Vatican II – is the biblical notion of Koinonia, which is the Greek word referring to our deep communion with one another in the Trinitarian life.” 

The church is called to be a communion of communions, said Ryan, “and the ultimate goal of the movement for Christian reconciliation is the establishment of full, visible unity among all the baptized, so that the churches may truly become a sign of that full communion in the one, holy and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ.” 

We must be ambassadors for Christian reconciliation, concluded Ryan. “The reception of a common life among Christians is at the very heart of God’s plan for the Church and the world.” 

Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, Ryan is currently the director of the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Washington, DC, as well as being the former director of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism, and of Unitas, an ecumenical centre for Christian meditation and spirituality in Montreal, QC. 


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