The first session of the sixth phase of the International Commission for Dialogue between the Disciples of Christ and the Catholic Church (the Commission) took place in Melbourne, Kentucky, USA, from the 24th to 29th June 2022. The Commission consists of fourteen Catholic and Disciples members appointed by the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, Vatican, and the Disciples Ecumenical Consultative Council, Indianapolis, USA. The goal of the dialogue, which started in 1977, has been understood to be full visible unity between Catholics and Disciples of Christ.
For the sixth phase, “The Ministry of the Holy Spirit” based on 2 Corinthians 3 has been chosen as the overall topic to explore the work of the Holy Spirit, especially in the life and ministry of the Church.
Prior to this session in person, the Commission held three online meetings to get to know one another, to discuss the Basic Outline of the Sixth Phase, and to help the Catholic members understand the history and polity of the Disciples of Christ.
On the first day, the Catholic co-chair, the Most Reverend David L. Ricken, Bishop of Green Bay, WI, USA, and the Disciples co-chair, Rev. Dr. Robert Welsh, Indianapolis, IN, USA, opened this session with a prayer service. On the following day, Bishop Ricken led a lectio divina on Acts 2 to deepen our spiritual understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit, and Dr. Welsh reviewed the previous five phases of the dialogue.
Meeting in Kentucky provided the Commission with the opportunity to meet with local ecclesial leaders and to visit historic sites of the Disciples of Christ. The Commission was first welcomed by the Most Reverend Roger Foys, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Covington, where the meeting was held. On Sunday, the Commission attended the Sunday worship service at Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Lexington, Kentucky, a congregation founded by Barton W. Stone, one of the Disciples founding fathers. Rev. David Shirey, Senior Pastor, and the church members welcomed the Commission warmly and hosted a luncheon for the Commission for further conversations. The Most Reverend John Stowe, Bishop of Lexington, also attended the worship service with the Commission. After the service, the members of the dialogue visited the Cane Ridge Meeting House, where Dr. Newell Williams presented a paper highlighting the most significant moments of the 1801 Communion Revival, which gave birth to a movement that became the Disciples of Christ. At the closing prayer service, Rev. Dr. Don Gillett, Regional Minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Kentucky, brought greetings to the Commission on behalf of the regional church.
The program of this meeting also included a Bible study on 2 Corinthians 3 by Prof. Ian Boxall. Two papers on the Holy Spirit and the Ministry of the Church were presented to the Commission: “Disciples of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and Ministry” by Dr. Thomas Best and “The Ministry of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 3): Laying Foundations” by Msgr. Michael Clay. Each day, the Commission began and ended their activities with prayers led alternatively by the members.
“The Holy Spirit as a gift” is the topic for the 2023 session, planned to be held in Rome.
Bishop Ricken, Catholic co-chair, reflected on this first session as follows: “It is very important to enter into a new topic and phase of an ecumenical dialogue by getting to know some of the history and the story of the other. It has been an honor for me and the Catholic team to visit the birthplace of the Disciples of Christ, the Cane Ridge Shrine, in Paris, Kentucky. Hearing the story in the place of the birth of this movement is inspiring and will assist us in the Dialogue in the years ahead.”
At the end of the meeting, Dr. Welsh, Disciples co-chair, shared, “This session of the Dialogue was a time of getting to know each other as the members of the Commission for Dialogue from a wide variety of nations from around the world (Australia, Korea, Puerto Rico, Ukraine, the Vatican City/Colombia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) as we joined together in common prayer and as we shared our understandings and personal experiences of the Holy Spirit.”
The Commission members from the Disciples of Christ are: Rev. Dr. Robert Welsh, Indianapolis, IN, USA, (co-chair); Rev. Paul Tché, General Secretary of the Disciples Ecumenical Consultative Council, (co-secretary). Indianapolis, IN, USA; Rev. Dr. Thomas Best, Belmont, MA, USA; Rev. Dr. Merryl Blair, Melbourne, Australia; Rev. Dr. Geritza Olivella-Santana, Bayamón, Puerto Rico; Rev. Dr. Newell Williams, Brite Divinity School at TCU, Fort Worth, TX, USA; and Rev. Noël Suministrado, Hamiota, Canada/The Philippines, who was absent from this meeting.
The Commission members from the Catholic Church are: Most Reverend David L. Ricken, Bishop of Green Bay, WI, USA, (co-chair); Rev. Msgr. Juan Usma Gómez, Bureau Chief of Western Section, Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, Vatican City/Colombia, (co-secretary); Prof. Ian Boxall, School of Theology and Religious Studies, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, USA/UK; Msgr. Dr. Michael Clay, Diocese of Raleigh, NC, and School of Theology and Religious Studies, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, USA; Prof. Elizabeth Groppe, Department of Religious Studies, University of Dayton, Dayton, OH, USA; Rev. Dr. Taras Khomych, Department of Theology, Philosophy and Religious Studies, Liverpool Hope University, UK, and Catholic University, Ukraine; and Rev. Dr. Michael G. Witzcak, School of Theology and Religious Studies, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, USA.