Leaders of the Church of the Brethren and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are meeting together to learn about each other’s traditions, find commonalities of theology and practice, and look for possibilities opportunities for collaborative work and mission in the future. The leaders met in February at the Disciples Center in Indianapolis and in March at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill.
Participants in both sessions were the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Disciples of Christ; Stanley Noffsinger, general secretary of the Church of the Brethren; Rev. Dr. Robert Welsh, president of the Council on Christian Unity for the Disciples; Rev. Mary Jo Flory-Steury, associate general secretary of the Church of the Brethren. Other Brethren and Disciples national/general staff leadership also participated in the conversations on congregational life, women’s ministry, new church planting, and global mission.
“The spirit I sense between us . . . isn’t about our two churches; it is about the one Church and the one Church’s mission,” commented Welsh during the March 21 meeting.
The Brethren and the Disciples already collaborate ecumenically through organizations like the National Council of Churches and Church World Service, and participate together in ministries of global missions and disaster response.
The leaders from the two communions agreed to pursue several collaborative ventures, including:
• having representatives at major meetings and assemblies in each other’s life;
• exploring greater opportunities for service and hands-on mission together;
• looking to each other as primary partners in a shared commitment to peacemaking and justice; and
• resourcing one another in the areas of new church establishment and congregational transformation.
The Indianapolis visit was marked by a time of sharing the history and background of the Disciples of Christ, an overview of the structure and major program areas in the life of the church, a tour of the Disciples Center, and a chapel service that was open to all Disciples Center staff during which Watkins presided at a celebration of Holy Communion.
The visit in Elgin included a chapel service led by the Church of the Brethren’s Congregational Life Ministries, and employees who work at the Brethren offices also attended. The service invited the Disciples leaders to join in ordinances that are central to the Brethren tradition of Love Feast: a time of spiritual self-examination, footwashing, and a service of communion.
Washing each other’s feet, especially as Easter approaches, is a hallmark of Brethren life, while celebrating communion at a common Table has special meaning for the Disciples’ tradition. Watkins and Flory-Steury washed each other’s feet, while Noffsinger and Welsh also shared in the ordinance. The whole congregation then shared in receiving communion together.
“It has been wonderful to explore points our traditions have in common. Especially meaningful was to share in the ordinance of feetwashing together,” said Noffsinger.
“I’m just really delighted with this initiative,” said Watkins at the close of the visit to the Brethren offices. “There is a sense in which ecumenical efforts move well when there is a connection made, individual to individual.”
Photo courtesy of Church of the Brethren. Pictured, L to R, are Welsh, Degges, Flory-Steury, Watkins and Noffsinger.