In a few days I will have the pleasure of accompanying members of Christian missionary communities, in which evangelicals and Roman Catholics minister side-by-side among the poor and marginalized, on a pilgrimage to Rome. The founders of InnerChange and Emmaus, and their members, have discovered a new ecumenical springtime in forgotten places, among the likes of gang members and men and women caught up in prostitution. In prayer they have felt led to travel together to Rome and meet with key figures in the ecumenical world, in order to share this vision, and to learn from the ongoing quest for Christian unity as it actually exists in practice around the globe. The vision of missional-ecumenism that I expressed in my recent book, Your Church Is Too Small, is something these brothers and sisters practice everyday among the despised of this world. We have mutually found a common bond, a shared heart and vision, and together have sensed the Spirit's timing in leading us all to gather in Rome. Most of us will actually meet there face-to-face there for the first time.
Our hopes for this time are quite modest. We will meet with professors at Pontifical universities, with staff at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU), the Centro Pro Unione, the Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, and the European President of the World Council of Churches. Our goal is rather simple---to humbly share friendship and vision as fellow pilgrims on this journey. We come not as experts, nor as grand theologians, but simply in response to the impulse of the Holy Spirit, in the hopes of sharing how 'Missional Ecumenism at the Margins' is bearing fruit in the hidden corners of the world. We hope to listen and learn from champions of unity and to try to discern together how the Holy Spirit is at work today in drawing Christians together.
Cardinal Kasper, the former President of the PCPCU, said recently that what is needed now in the ecumenical realm is a "New Pentecost.” This is our humble prayer, that in some small way we might be a part of a new work of the Holy Spirit to break down the dividing walls of hostility between followers of Jesus, so that the world might believe. Please join us in this prayer, as we gather in the ancient city of Rome for a forward looking time of fellowship, prayer and conversation about the renewing of Christ’s catholic church.
For me this trip involved a number of providences that led me to conclude that God wanted me to go. After being open to the idea I felt led to back out. After being implored to pray more and seek God I saw the Spirit leading me to go. I had several obstacles and God removed them all. First, I could not afford the flight and need to fly business class so I could actually sleep (a medical necessity in my case). A friend gave me 150,000 miles to fly and that was taken care of perfectly. Then I need money and a place to lodge. Two donors gave the money, one even before the trip was actually agreed upon. The other felt led to ask me how he could help before I told him the whole story. Finally, Acton Institute became involved in my planning. I am speaking for their Rome ministry, the first Protestant guest they have hosted I think. Finally, I needed an OK from my physician who said, “So long as you do not carry on a rigorous teaching schedule you can go!” (I think I speak formally only twice.)
I am not sure what God has in store for me in Rome but I fully expect that my life is about to profoundly change. I am not going in order to convert to Catholicism. I am going to open my life to my brothers and sisters in Christ’s mission to see how he wants to use each of us, and all of us, to bring about the New Pentecost we earnestly seek. I believe he alone could have arranged this trip so I go in faith with a deep growing love for all the church of Jesus Christ. As I look back over the course of my life I would never have seen myself in this role even a few years ago. God is truly amazing.