MELBOURNE, KENTUCKY – Monsignor Michael Clay, of the Diocese of Raleigh and pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in Raleigh, was part of the first session of the sixth phase of the International Commission for Dialogue between the Disciples of Christ and the Catholic Church. Known as the Commission, the meeting took place June 24 – 29, 2022 in Kentucky.
The Commission consists of seven Catholics appointed by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity and seven Disciples appointed by their Ecumenical Consultative Council in Indianapolis, USA. This phase of dialogue concludes in 2027. The goal of the dialogue, started in 1977, is 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.
The meeting included a lectio divina on Acts 2 to deepen the participants' understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit. This was led by Most Reverend David L. Ricken, Bishop of Green Bay, USA and was followed by an overview of the 45 years of dialogue and its progress by Rev. Dr. Robert Welsh of Indianapolis, IN, USA, a member of the dialogue since its inception. A bible study on 2 Corinthians 3 was led by Dr. Ian Boxall of The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, and two academic papers were delivered, the first by Rev. Dr. Thomas Best entitled, “The Disciples of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and Ministry,” and the second by Msgr. Dr. Michael Clay entitled, “The Ministry of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3): Laying Foundations.”
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. 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, president of Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth, TX, 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 conclusion of the five-day meeting, 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.
Bishop Ricken, Catholic co-chair, reflecting on this first session, said: “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.”
Msgr. Clay noted, “It was a great honor to deliver the first academic paper of this phase of dialogue for the Catholic team. Its purpose was to lay out our magisterial and theological understanding of the word ‘ministry,’ from ordained to instituted, from lay ecclesial to commissioned. It also provided an overview of the Holy Spirit’s role in relation to ministry, beginning in baptism, revealed in charisms, present in liturgical rites for those being ordained.”
The next meeting of the Commission will take place in Rome in June 2023.