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Methodist-Catholic dialogue explores Eucharist, environment

Methodist-Catholic dialogue explores Eucharist, environment

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Methodist-Catholic dialogue explores Eucharist, environment

By USCCB Communications | Aug. 11, 2009 {1064}

WASHINGTON — Care for one’s bodily health is linked to care for the body of the church and material creation, said Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker of the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church in a sermon during the second meeting of Round 7 of the Methodist-Catholic Dialogue at St. Paul’s College June 15-17.

Roman Catholic Bishop William Skylstad (left) and Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, at St. Paul’s College in Washington, D.C., in December 2008, are co-chairs of “The Eucharist and Care for God’s Creation,” the latest dialogue between the two churches. A UMNS photo by the Rev. W. Douglas Mills. Photo #09-1283.

Whitaker, who co-chairs the dialogue with Roman Catholic Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., drew on the body image from the New Testament to show that Christ’s redemption embraces all of creation and implies respect for the natural environments in which parishes and church agencies are located.

The dialogue between the United Methodist Church and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) dates back to 1966 and has covered a broad range of theological and moral topics. During Round 7, participants examined Christian responsibility for the environment from the perspective of the church’s rich sacramental heritage.

Recently, religious leaders have spoken about global climate change and its impact on people in poverty. The National Religious Partnership on the Environment has called particular attention to the hardships that will burden the poor if policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are not carefully structured. Representing the Partnership as a guest speaker, Walter Grazer said it is incumbent that policies “create new well-paying, climate-friendly jobs and assist workers who lose their jobs as a result of new climate regulations and other policies.”

The dialogue draws expertise from scholars whose specialties are in either ethics or sacraments. Their conversation hopes to produce an adult education instrument to enable laity from both churches to respond to the current ecological crisis from the vantage point of believers who celebrate God’s gift of creation in every Eucharistic liturgy.

Monsignor Kevin W. Irwin, dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., gave two presentations. In the first he traced developments in Eucharistic doctrine found in papal documents from Pius XII to Benedict XVI. Later, Irwin explored the symbolic language of the Eucharist to show the connection between the work of making bread and wine and redemption. “The very bread and wine themselves are human gifts through which we receive the richest of divine gifts,” he said.

The Rev. Kendall Soulen, of the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church and professor of systematic theology at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., spoke on United Methodist sources for connecting sacraments and ecology. The writings of John Wesley, along with the hymns of his brother Charles Wesley (sung in both Catholic and Methodist communities), presuppose a theology of creation that emphasizes the glorification of God in the natural world.

The Rev. Francis Tiso, associate director of the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, explored environmental themes in the monastic tradition. Monks and nuns have always emphasized the harmony between the natural beauty surrounding their settlements and the life and worship that take place within the monastic enclosure, he said.

Catholic participants also included the Rev. James Massa, executive director of the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; the Rev. Drew Christiansen, editor of America Magazine; the Rev. John Hart, Boston University School of Theology; and Angela Russell Christman, director of the Catholic Studies program at Loyola College in Baltimore, Md.

Other United Methodist participants included the Rev. Betty Gamble, USCCB staff; the Rev. Edgar Colon-Emeric, Duke University Divinity School in Durham, N.C.; and the Rev. Karen Westerfield-Tucker, Boston School of Theology

The next meeting of the dialogue is Dec. 15-17 at St. Paul’s College in Washington, D.C.

Reprinted with permission from U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.