Photo: Ecumenical memorial for genocide victims in the Ottoman Empire / Place: Berlin-Charlottenburg, Luisenkirchhof III
What do we understand by “Ecumenism”?
The word “Ecumenism” comes from ancient Greek and means “the inhabited earth”.
What does this translation mean today?
For the term Ecumenism has undergone seven transformations of meaning over its 23 centuries of history:
- the whole inhabited world
- belong to or representing the Roman Empire
- belonging to or representing the Church as a whole
- having got general church validity
- concerning the worldwide missionary task of the Church
- concern the relationship between several churches or different Christians of different denominations
- the knowledge of belonging to the Christian world fellowship of churches and the willingness of Christians to work for the unity of the church
The usage of Ecumenism in the modern ecumenical movement of the 20th/21st century is so described:
Ecumenism means the effort of confessionally separated Christians and churches (Orthodox, Protestant or Catholic) to achieve unity of the church and the perception of Christian co-responsibility for a world inhabitable by all people under just conditions.
Ecumenism thus refers to the worldwide dialogue and fellowship of different Christian churches. This dialogue is necessary because many different churches have emerged from the early Christian community over the course of time. As a basis they all have faith in the one God testified to by the Bible, but they all set different theological accents.
Ecumenism seeks unity among the existing confessions without discussing away their characteristics and without ignoring differences (in reconciled diversity). Moreover, ecumenism also includes dialogue with all movements which pursue similar goals, e.g. with other religions or convictions.
Without tolerance this dialogue is not possible. An attempt is made to acknowledge the differences of others and to find common ground.
The Ecumenical Youth Services with their volunteer camp programme offer a space in which Ecumenism (in the definition of the 20th/21st century) can be practiced within the Christian churches and between Christians and people of other faiths.
Ecumenical learning – learning to see oneself through the eyes of others
The aim of Ecumenical Youth Services is to make ecumenical learning possible.
Ecumenical Learning is a holistic process and means,
- that people learn in ecumenical contexts.
- that people understand their own life context in cross-cultural contexts and get to know themselves better as persons and cultural bearers.
- that people gain primary experience by entering into dialogue with people of other nations, languages, cultures and/or religions.
- that people understand the common future for our “One World” through meeting.
- that people discover their own responsibility in relation to justice, peace and the integrity of creation.
- that people enter into a relationship with God together and live according to the motto. “Love your neighbour as yourself”.
- that people consciously enter unfamiliar situations and thereby reflect and question their own everyday life.
Elements of Ecumenical Learning are:
- Meeting others in dialogue
- Mutual helping, mutual learning, celebrating and living together
- Perception of the Other
- Relating to a person e.g. in the form of compassion, mercy, hands-on engagement
- Experience Spirituality
- Emotional devotion to God (“Knowing God means knowing what to do”), as a basic attitude for active participation.
International ecumenical volunteer camps offer good conditions for ecumenical learning in practice. They enable primary experiences in which ecumenical reality can be experienced directly.
What is the effect of Ecumenical Learning?
- Promoting personal development in terms of self-confidence, confidence in one’s own abilities, social competence, openness to new experiences
- intercultural competence (dealing with ambiguities), identity formation
- long lasting contacts between participants
- a positive attitude towards the countries and cultures you have come to know
- an increased knowledge of foreign languages
- Interest in further encounters and exchanges
- Increasing social awareness
We live in a world that should not be divided into First, Second and Third World. It should be the incentive of all our actions to dream of the one world and to want to help shape it.
The Little Owl – An ecumenical fairy tale
This story by austrian author Lene Mayer-Skumanz about the Question “The Great One-Which-Made-Everything” is a literary greeting to children and adults all over the world. Translations of the book have been donated by friends from many countries.