CDSP First Year M.Div. Elizabeth Ashman Reports from the NCC and Church World Service

by Elizabeth Ashman, CDSP  M.Div.

Growing up with a Jewish sister and father, and being a former Catholic now studying to be an Episcopal priest, I feel a strong call towards ecumenical and interfaith work, but what shape that will take is still unknown to me. So when the opportunity to spend a week in New Orleans as a young adult representative for the Episcopal Church at the General Assembly of the National Council of Churches and Church World Service I took it in hopes of answering some of these questions. There I engaged in a young adult gathering of ecumenical leaders from across the denominational spectrum. For two days we shared in community and conversation, I built friendships across denominations and seminaries and discovered we are all more alike then we originally thought. All of us bonded and planned for the future in that idealistic way that only youthful energy can bring, certain that we could solve all the worlds problems if we all just love one another and get along. But in all seriousness, we focused on the importance of our common denominator, that we are Christians, and that needs to become more important then denominational lines. The majority of us also attended the General Assembly by sitting in on meetings, participating in conversations, and promoting the young adult voice for those denominations and communions that did not already have young people presence.
My time in New Orleans gave me an opportunity to reflect both on my future goals as a minister and my time at CDSP. It can be difficult to focus on the next three years after experiencing what is happening right now in the ecumenical and interfaith movement. Yet, I must recognize the importance of my education so that I can fully understand the world that I want to work in. So what can be done while I am here? Though the Graduate Theological Union is unique in its structure of having so many denominations present, it is not truly as ecumenical as it could be. We do have an advantage over many other seminaries in that we are a consortium of seminaries and are able to take classes with one-another, but we still find ourselves identifying first with our denomination both inside and outside the classroom. There is a unique opportunity here to build a generation of leaders in the Christian church who are already ecumenical and go into their parish, diocese, or classroom understanding the importance of that attitude. In all of our futures there will be interactions with people of other Christian and religious traditions. Therefore our training at seminary should be reflective of the world we are trying to enter. Yes, we need to understand our own denomination. As Episcopalians we need to know the Book of Common Prayer, the history of the church, and how to preach a sermon. However, once we understand our own perspective we must strive to understand the other Christian perspectives and then build from our common ground.

Elizabeth Ashman is a first year seminarian from the Diocese of Alaska.

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