Do Evangelicals and Catholics have similar or different conceptions of God? What beliefs do they share? Is there a basis for solidarity between them? A small group including theologians, church administrators, and lay persons has been meeting in dialogue over a period of three years to find out. Following is an account of how it all began written by Sue Mosteller, C.S.J., one of the participants.
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Four evangelicals, named by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and four Roman Catholics, named by the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops, were invited by their respective Churches to enter into a three-year period of dialogue to see if there might be ways of working together on a mutual endeavor of solidarity. Some were theologians and working in university settings, some were in Church administration, and some were laypersons with a desire to find common ground. Most of us did not know the others prior to our first meeting.
The first meeting began in the office of one of the Church administrators, and we were seated around a large table with a pad of paper and a bottle of water before each one of us. After an opening prayer, the Chair gave a historic overview of our ‘call’ to serve on the committee, inviting us to this two-year dialogue and the request to send an annual report of our meetings to our respective denominations.
After introductions we were faced with the question of what might be a possible outcome from our dialogue in the time assigned. Many suggestions were put forward including hosting an ecumenical event/conference, writing short papers on topics of mutual interest in our Evangelical/Roman Catholic dialogue, or writing one longer paper on one topic of mutual interest. We were loath to come to conclusions too quickly, so we left those options on the table and focused more on the topic of our second meeting.
One of the members said she would be interested to hear each person’s ‘spiritual history’ prior to our entering into any theological or philosophical discussion. With that in mind, we planned our second meeting in a quiet setting for a full two days and an overnight. One member volunteered to give us some guidelines for sharing our ‘spiritual history.’ She sent us the following questions to be used as a guideline if necessary:
1. What is your first memory of hearing about God? Who first told you about God? What do you remember hearing and feeling in and after that conversation?
2. Can you describe a significant experience of God or Church that influenced your spiritual journey? (Joining the choir? First Communion? Confirmation? A certain service?)
3. What persons, events, or books influenced your spiritual growth?
4. What would be one of the challenges your experience within your Church life today?
5. Why do you love your tradition?
6. Were there any other significant moments along your way?
A few months later, our second meeting began in a small retreat house in a quiet living room environment, with a candle, coffee, tea, and snacks, on the coffee table in the center. The sharing began.
No one seemed to find this task difficult. Rather, it was a joy to share about that which we each loved so much. Several of us talked for more than the suggested half hour allotment! After each person’s sharing we sat together for about five minutes of silent reflection and thanksgiving for what we had heard. We then went around the circle to give people an opportunity to reflect back to the sharer, what had touched them from the sharing. We did not have a question and answer period. Our times of sharing were only interrupted for breaks, meals, a worship time, sleep, and longer periods of silent reflection together.
We really had no idea of the significance of this time together. Each story, so personal and so precious touched hearts deeply, while also giving each one such an appreciation of the other on their very unique spiritual path. Being together in silence seemed to have a ‘bonding’ effect on the group, as we marveled at the circumstances, the challenges, the beauty, the courage, and the spiritual depth of our new friends’ experiences. In the silence and in our worship together, we marveled in the wonderful works of God in each life.
Needless to say, our preliminary time of being together in this prayerful and personal way impacted on our future dialogue and work together. As one who did not look forward to sorting out theological points of convergence and difference, I looked forward to being with my new friends in the search for God’s ways of allowing us to find and discover, not so much the problems of our differences, but the beauty of our calls. After four years, we continue to give thanks for all that is and has been given by the bonding and friendship that God provided in our beginning.
Submitted by Sue Mosteller, C.S.J. Dec. 11, 2012