Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs continues to reach out to other faiths

COLUMBIA — The last two months have been an active time for the Diocese of Charleston’s Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

With departmental meetings and ecumenical events, the office continues to move forward in its efforts to reach out to other faith communities, following its mission to “initiate and support activities within our diocese for the promotion of full, visible unity among Christians and cooperation among religions.”

For the fourth year, the office sponsored a Parish Ecumenical Representative (PER) workshop. This year’s workshop was Oct. 22-23 at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston.

“We offered something different this time,” said Missy Walker, the office’s administrator. “We had a special session for all new PERs, titled ‘Ecumenical 101.’ The workshop gave a rundown on the responsibilities of a PER and helped explained what ecumenism is.”

This session was held before the general meeting because it only pertained to new representatives.

On Friday night the workshop began with guest speaker Marion Aldridge, coordinator of the Cooperative Baptists Fellowship of South Carolina, who spoke on “Understanding Baptists.” In his talk he offered an overview of Baptist history, beliefs, and practices. Aldridge found a letter in his late father’s effects in which he offered condolences to the Vatican on the death of Pope John XXIII. Aldridge had never known that his Baptist father had done this, but sees it as a sign of an ecumenical heritage in his own family.

Carl Evans, chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of South Carolina, gave a talk the next day that focused on the religious diversity found in the state.

Evans, director of Partners in Dialogue, an interfaith initiative to promote understanding and cooperation among different faiths, gave insight into the cultural aspects of some of the religions.

“We want to make this an annual event so we can support the grass root efforts and give updates to our church representative,” said Father Sandy McDonald, vicar for ecumenical and religious affairs. “We also want our PERs to have an opportunity to dialogue and network with us and other PERs in the state.”

Father McDonald sees the meeting as an opportunity to exchange ideas and give the diocese an update on the ecumenical activities in the state.

He also sees the quarterly newsletter as a vehicle for exchanging ideas. It has a question-and-answer section, a letter from the vicar, and additional articles to assist PERs.

On Nov. 12, the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs was part of the annual Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic and United Methodist Bishops’ Dialogue Fall 2004 Conference at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia.

Evans returned to expand on his talk, “Who Are Our New Neighbors? Changing Landscape of South Carolina, Challenges for Communities of Faith.”

The next event for the department will be an ecumenical prayer service at 4 p.m. Jan. 30 during the week of prayer for Christian Unity at the Church of the Advent in Spartanburg.

Father McDonald offered some advice for new and old PERs: be realistic and know that all efforts in ecumenism, even the small ones, are welcome.

“Do not be afraid to try this kind of work,” Father McDonald said, echoing the words of Pope John Paul II.