Sometimes, it seems like churches have a tendency to isolate themselves. No, let me rephrase that: Churches often isolate themselves. Perhaps, this is even more true in my denomination than it is in some others. The United Church of Christ's seal incorporates Jesus' prayer "That they may all be one" (John 17:21) as its motto, yet many of our local churches cling to the notion of congregational autonomy, forgetting that autonomy needs to be balanced with covenantal relationship if it is to be anything more than isolationism.
Healthy congregations, as well as healthy pastors and healthy denominations, seek ways to work together, both as a means of strengthening their ministries and as a way of maintaining the health of each partner. This past Tuesday, I gathered at the Stony Hill Inn with twenty or so representatives of different denominations who met, at the invitation of the Bergen County Council of Churches, to discuss how we can all work together. As a member of the BCCC's board of directors, I was encouraged to hear representatives of the Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Assemblies of God, Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist, Salvation Army, Baptist, UCC and other traditions voicing a shared vision for cooperative ministry.
All too often, we hear critics say that the ecumenical movement is dead, but the women and men who gathered for breakfast on Tuesday showed just how false such a claim is. We talked about joint educational programs for adults. We shared ideas about combining our efforts on social ministries within the county. We discussed ways that the young people in our congregations could learn and work together. They're all great ideas. Now, we've got some work to do to bring them to fruition.