Newly published volume explores historic roots of desire for Christian unity

A lively webinar ushered in the long-anticipated publication “A History of the Desire for Christian Unity: Vol 1: Dawn of Ecumenism,” the first of three volumes on the history of ecumenism.

The volume was presented by Prof. Alberto Melloni, the director of the project, and Dr Luca Ferracci, the editor of the history, of the Foundation for Religious Studies in Bologna, at the webinar organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, observed 18-25 January. 
This first volume traces the long-term roots of ecumenism from the 19th century and into the heart of the 20th.

In an opening greeting at the 19 January webinar, WCC acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca shared how much he appreciated and welcomed the project. 

“I was able to get acquainted with this project when I was in Bologna last year for the G20 Interfaith Forum that was hosted in this city, and I am grateful for this webinar which will allow this publication to reach a much wider audience,” said Sauca. “We need to understand and be acquainted with our past to look forward to our future, and this volume will help us do that.”

Taking stock of our history can help us to understand better our tasks for today and tomorrow, Sauca added. “In his introduction to the volume, Professor Melloni underlines that this history should not be understood as an institutional history—neither as a history of an institution, nor a history produced by an institution,” said Sauca. “A glimpse at the table of contents of this first volume shows the many ways from the 19th to the mid-20th centuries in which women and men manifested this desire for unity in their lives and witness.”

Sauca also expressed particular happiness that the volume is being released in the same year as the WCC 11th Assembly. “It reminds of all those who have preceded us, and of the history on which our present and future is built,” he said. “Looking at the journey of the churches and the ecumenical movement from our founding assembly in Amsterdam in 1948 to Busan, the delegates in Busan wanted to emphasize that ecumenism, the desire for unity, is about moving together step by step, growing every day in mutual accountability, building trust in each other, deepening relationships on the common journey, and finding creative responses to challenges old and new for the benefit of all.”

Pastor Laurence Mottier from the Protestant Church of Geneva also offered an opening reflection on Christian unity. “In accepting the discomfort and the challenges, I have been able to discover the joy in celebrating with others as brothers and sisters,” she said. “I’ve put the search for Christian unity at the centre of my ministry at the Protestant Church of Geneva.”

Melloni spoke of how many scholars and contributors—128 in all—are helping bring the volumes to fruition and of the “difficulty of making a global history.”

The complexity and importance behind the topic of Christian unity is why the work will fill three volumes, said Melloni. 

Ferracci gave an overview of the entire project, sharing that the third volume will be published in 2024. “Space will be given to the so-called newer churches and the non-denominational initiatives, and their impact on the ecumenical movement,” he said. 

Moderated by Dr Stephen Brown, editor of the WCC’s journal, The Ecumenical Review, the webinar allowed three panelists – Prof. Dr Michael Quisinsky, Prof. Elisabeth Parmentier, and Archbishop Job of Telmessos ¬– to share their personal ecumenical histories as well as their reactions to the new volume. 

Quisinsky shared why ecumenism is important to him, and why he believes exploring the history will lead to a better understanding of the desire for Christian unity. “It seems all the more necessary to clarify the nature of this desire,” he said. 

Parmentier, who was born near to Strasbourg at border between France and Germany, shared how her own family history includes changes in culture and language—as does does the history of ecumenism and of Christianity itself. “I’ve never understood the scriptures differently than that,” she said. “As a researcher, I want to work towards that.”

Archbishop Job shared a personal ecumenical history that includes doctoral studies, teaching, and research at many renowned institutions, as well as currently serving as representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the WCC. “This was a great adventure, and I look forward to the next events in this ecumenical adventure,” he shared. 

In the three-volume history, scholars across continents and disciplines will explore the role of individuals and groups, assemblies, documents and programmes, and theologies and practices in the history of ecumenism and the ecumenical movement.

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