Texas Pastor Addresses World Council of Churches
Traveling to Switzerland to speak with ecumenical leaders from around the world is a spiritually enriching experience that Rev. Dr. Chuck Simmons, Memorial Drive UMC, is eager to share.
Finding common ground amidst a variety of viewpoints has long been a passion of Rev. Dr. Chuck Simmons, who is beginning his 18th year as the senior pastor of the 7500-member Memorial Drive UMC, Houston. Having been trained in ecumenical formation during his younger years, he recently went “back to the future” to speak to students and leaders on this topic, at a type of think-tank gathering of some 380 denominations represented by the World Council of Churches (WCC). The Council’s Faith and Order Commission promotes visible unity of Christians by dealing with theological questions that divide Christians. In 2014, the WCC appointed a new commission with theological expertise reflecting a wide range of contexts.
“As a grad student in the early 1970s, I was chosen to be a Methodist Fellow on behalf of Emory University to live and study abroad with 50+ others from 27 denominations,” he recalls. “That nine months focused on ecumenical education was very formative for me. I was part of a group of leaders learning how to work better together globally on what we could agree on – including issues of hunger and malaria.”
A distinguished alum of the Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies at Bossey, he later served on the World Church Council staff in the Ministry of Education, directly assisting Professor Paulo Freire in his “Libertie de Pedagoge” program. Forty years later, Chuck received an invitation to speak of the personal and professional impact of his time at Bossey and assist in strategizing future funding for the formational studies at the Institute de Ecumenique. “Current leaders wanted to know if they should still continue to fund this unique 9-month ecumenical formation program, and as I shared how I have never looked at the world the same, following this experience, they ultimately agreed that these dollars were well spent,” he explains. “It was exhilarating and fun to be a living witness that testified to the fact that, for the four decades following, this training has helped me find common ground and see a global church across denominational lines.” In fact, his background and passions are visible in Memorial Drive UMC’s eight global-focused ministries today.
To prepare for this global discussion, he had to think long and hard how to describe the impact of this training on his life and ministry. “I realized that this training so deeply impacted me that I even read news stories about tsunamis and other global events from that acute awareness of diversity,” he shares. “I will admit, I was intimidated showing up on the agenda this April with Cardinal Mauro Piacenze, a native Italian pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, who also weighed in on this topic,” adds Chuck, “but our dialogue led to a quick and positive vote to continue placing focus and funding on ecumenical training.”
Adds Chuck, “It was a delightful experience to represent the Texas Annual Conference in this manner, and to have a part in shaping the global church as we seek commonalities in Christ.”