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Ecumenical next steps following Thursday’s National Day of Prayer

Presbyterian Center Chapel preacher calls Earth care our most pressing calling

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Chris Iosso, coordinator for the Advisory Committee on Social Witness policy, talked about his vision for ecumenism Wednesday during Chapel service at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville, Ky. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — One day ahead of Thursday’s National Day of Prayer, the Rev. Chris Iosso urged worshipers during the weekly Chapel service at the Presbyterian Center Wednesday to work toward a new ecumenism that bridges the widening gap between humanity and the planet they inhabit.

“The climate crisis gives urgency to ecumenism, and makes divisions more problematic than ever,” said Iosso, coordinator of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy. “It is not a struggle we can overcome on a national basis.”

Even beyond the traditional Church World Service, Iosso envisions a Church Earth Service. He held up the example of Young Adult Volunteers, who “drop out and do something for a year that doesn’t enhance their career … We have a prototype where people go out and mix it up across race, class and culture.”

Established in 1952, the National Day of Prayer is, at its best, “patriotic ecumenism,” Iosso said. While “we do have a responsibility to pray for our country,” the annual day of prayer now focuses on this message, he said: “It’s important that America stays as Christian as possible, and perhaps as white and capitalist as possible.”

God’s alternative, he said, is found in one of two New Testament passages for the day, John 17:11 and 15-19, in which Jesus prays that his followers will be one just as he and his Father are one.

“The core of ecumenism is Christ,” Iosso said, “and if we forget that for one minute, we are out of the boat. The church has an entirely different organizing principle — that of love for one another. And the sign of that love is the unity to which we — all Christians — are called.”

Then Iosso turned to Acts 17:22-28, where Paul tells Athenians that his travels through their city took him to an altar with this inscription: “To an unknown god.” Greeks and others will search for God — perhaps even grope for God and find God, though, Paul assures his audience, God is not far from each of us, for “In God we live and move and have our being.”

“It is that truly unified church that I would call the Unknown Church, simply because we have never seen it,” Iosso said.

As Paul goes about “blowing up the idols and shrines of other gods,” the biggest one is ethnic difference, Iosso said. “Behind that is the larger claim that God is uncontainable in any nation or culture. God is the creator, linked to every creature on Earth” through Paul’s reminder that it’s in God that we live and move and have our being.

“So the key ecumenical move for us — which is also an evangelical move — is to show the church as a transnational and transracial body living out God’s will for humanity,” Iosso said.

And what is the ultimate division we are called to transcend? In our time, it is the division between humanity and Earth itself, he said.

“This call by the cosmic Christ to help save this world from what is real climate change danger — what higher call could a church ask for?” he said.

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