It’s been a busy week, so I haven’t had time to report on what I think was one of the best “ecumenical” conferences I have been involved in ever (and that’s including any I have organised). The credit goes to the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family (Melbourne Campus), and, I believe, their Senior Lecturer Dr Adam Cooper. The Colloquium on St Paul was held last Monday and Tuesday to mark the conclusion of the Year of St Paul. Yeah, okay, so it was a month late, but everyone was on holiday when it actually ended.
Bishop Peter Elliott, the director of the JPII Institute, opened the show on Monday morning. The major guest speaker, giving two papers during the colloquium on Tuesday morning (“Man and Woman in Christ in the Pauline Letters” and the “Gospel and Human Sexuality”), was Dr Greg Lockwood, professor of NT at Australian Lutheran College (the LCA seminary in North Adelaide). He was joined on the podium by the excellent Pastor Fraser Pearce (oft mentioned on this blog and a little less often mentioned on his own blog, where you can read his presentation on “The Concept of the Flesh in the Letters of Paul“). So, two Lutheran clergy as speakers giving three out of 16 papers. But add to that the fact that Dr Cooper (“Faith comes by Hearing”), Peter Holmes (“The Geography of St Paul” and “St Paul in the Context of the Rabbinical Schools“), and I (“N.T. Wright’s understanding of St Paul’s doctrine of Justification“) in the also gave papers (Peter gave two) and that makes 7 of the 16 papers given by men who gained their theological education at the same Lutheran seminary.
Now add the fact that two other Lutheran clergy and two Lutheran laypeople also participated in the colloquium. That makes nine people from a Lutheran background at a small Catholic seminar of about 30-35 participants.
Now, here’s my point, and why I think this was the best “ecumenical” conference I have attended. None of the participants came to have an ecumenical dialogue or even to discuss ecumenical relations (except perhaps me – I work 24/7 at my job!). But what we all did was gather around the Scriptures with a shared committment to God’s Word and to learning more about the person and teachings of St Paul. Focused on listening to God’s Word, rather than listening to ourselves or trying to score points for one “side” or another, we actually found ourselves listening to one another in a very authentic way.
Having shared together at the table of God’s Word, as brothers and sisters in Christ, it was therefore all the more confronting when it came to the celebration of the Eucharist at the end of the Colloquium to return to the reality of the fact that we were still a long way from sharing together at the table of the Sacrament.
But perhaps if we have more meetings together of the callibre of this colloquium, the time when that sharing becomes possible might draw nearer sooner.