Celebrating a New Relationship: The PCCNA and USCCB

Celebrating a New Relationship: The PCCNA and USCCB

September 27, 2021 By Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs

It was a cool winter’s day, and I had made my way to a hotel near Washington, D.C. where the Rev. Dr. Harold Hunter, liaison to the Greater Christian Community of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, was lodging. Given he was in the area we decided, despite the ominous reminders of the pandemic in mask regulations, prohibitions of in-person work, and news stories, to actually meet in person. Harold graciously gave me a cup of coffee to dispel the chill I had from the walk over, and we dreamed together of the moment when we might begin a national theological dialogue between Catholics and Pentecostals here in the United States.

A few of our staff’s predecessors in the secretariat, especially Brother Jeffrey Gros and Father Al Baca, did a bit of foundational dialogue work to get Harold and I to the point of coming together for that meeting. Harold has been involved in ecumenical work for a long time and has worked with Catholics and Pentecostals on the international level. I feel abundantly blessed that I was able to witness the relationship between Pentecostals and Catholics grow here in the United States as a result of the mutual hopes of many in our communities through the years.

Together we were able to staff a first session of an exploratory dialogue between scholars representing the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, with the approval of the chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and scholars of the Pentecostal Charismatic Churches of North America. The PCCNA’s website indicates that they have a membership of over 40 million Pentecostal Christians and include numerous denominations including the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) and the Assemblies of God among others.

At that hotel meeting Harold mentioned that an area the Pentecostal scholars would be interested in exploring would involve the Catholic sense of liturgy and ritual. After a discussion we concluded that it might be helpful to develop our topics based upon the three types of Sacraments in the Catholic Church, exploring how our respective communities engage in ritual acts of Initiation, Healing and Vocation/Service. We had our topics and our hopes.

On September 14-16, 2021, we had our first gathering of the exploratory dialogue. It was in person and not only was an exchange of scholarly papers, it was an experience of living the Christian life together, if for only a brief time. In addition to the scholarly exchange we hoped for, we also intended for these meetings to involve our scholars coming to know each other’s faith communities, and discerning if it would be viable to go to the next step of seeking out an officially recognized ecumenical theological dialogue between representatives of the PCCNA and the USCCB.

The dialogue was held at the Washington Retreat House which is run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement, well known for their charism of ecumenical engagement. Both groups took turns leading communal prayer in the morning and in the evening and we shared all of our meals together. We enjoyed a presentation by Sister Nancy Conboy on the charism of the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement. We also visited the John Paul II National Shrine, the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land (facilitated by Fr. Jim Gardiner, SA) and the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception with a tour by Msgr. Vito A. Buonanno.

Two papers were exchanged followed by insightful and animated discussions by the scholars present. The first was given by the Rev. Dr. Frederick L. Ware who is Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the School of Divinity of Howard University. His paper was entitled, “Initiation (Water Baptism) in North American Pentecostalism.” The second was given by Dr. Kimberly Belcher who is on the faculty of the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. Her paper was entitled “Initiation from a Roman Catholic Perspective.”

I personally found one of the most edifying elements of the theological exchanges was that both groups were clearly trying to discern, even at this early stage, areas where we might be able to recognize theological convergence. I believe everyone was invigorated by the experience and encouraged about the potential growth of this dialogue. All of us are looking forward to coming together again next year as the Pentecostals host us at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

By Reverend Walter F. Kedjierski, Executive Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs

USCCB has also distributed a press release celebrating this occasion.

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