Workshop Offers Ecumenical Training

February 19, 2009

Linda Bloom*

Feb. 19, 2009 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

United Methodists interested in broadening their understanding of ecumenical cooperation are invited to attend special training sessions in Phoenix.


The sessions are part of the National Workshop on Christian Unity, which takes place April 27-30 at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix.

This is the first time that specific United Methodist programming is being offered, according to Wendy Whiteside, an executive with the denomination's Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. The workshop, sponsored by the National Association of Ecumenical Officers, is marking its 42nd year.

Blending the denominational focus into a workshop that already was in the travel budget of numerous annual conferences was important, not just for the sake of economy but to assist the many conference representatives new to the area of Christian unity, she said.

"They've got a lot of interest and enthusiasm, but they need some guidance," Whiteside said.

The Rev. Stephen Sidorak Jr. (at left), top executive of the Commission on Christian Unity, has attended the national workshop for more than 25 years, most of that time in his previous role as director of state council of churches in Colorado and Connecticut. Last year, he said, he sensed some frustration on the part of United Methodists in attendance about the lack of specific denominational training.

He decided the commission needed to take an active role in arranging such training for the 2009 event. "I'm always looking for ways in which we can educate and mentor new ecumenical leadership, particularly the younger generation," he added.

Exposure to other traditions

By providing such opportunities at the National Workshop on Christian Unity, United Methodists who participate have "the added benefit of exposure to the other major Christian traditions," Sidorak explained.

As a whole, the workshop event:

  • Provides information, resources and networking opportunities for clergy, laity, theologians and ecumenical officers and staff.
  • Encourages an exchange of ideas and experiences among those concerned with Christian unity.
  • Makes the connection among local, regional and national practitioners of Christian unity.
  • Promotes the development and interaction of denominational networks.
  • Celebrates the unity that already exists among Christians and searches for ways to overcome divisions that remain.

Featured speakers in Phoenix will include:

  • The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, a Presbyterian and president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
  • Margaret Mitchell, professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
  • Metropolitan Gerasimos of the Greek Archdiocese of San Francisco.
  • The Rev. Cecil "Mel" Robeck, Jr., professor of church history and ecumenics and director of the David J. DuPlessis Center for Christian Spirituality at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.


Seminars and ecumenical worship services also are scheduled.

Daily highlights

The United Methodist sessions begin with a full day on April 27, including a general orientation and discussion of responsibilities, resources and case studies related to Christian unity.

Bishop Minerva Carcano of Phoenix, a former member of the Commission on Christian Unity, will speak at a luncheon on April 28. Speakers at the afternoon session that day will include David Fraccaro, young adult ecumenical formation coordinator for the U.S. Conference for the World Council of Churches.

Sessions on April 29 include a discussion of the denomination's quadrennial goals and tentative plans for an evening film viewing. On April 30, following the workshop's closing lunch, United Methodists will meet a final time, Whiteside said, hopefully to establish a network similar to what already exists for other denominations.

The objective, she added, is to "share a focus, a plan and a goal that can help them in their annual conferences."

Additional information and registration details for the National Workshop on Christian Unity is available at

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.