National Workshop on Christian Unity Coming to St. Louis


By Fred Koenig

Next spring Missouri Methodists will have a unique opportunity to participate in a conference in St. Louis that aims to bring Christians of different faiths together for a time of learning and faith development.  The National Workshop on Christian Unity will be held in St. Louis, Missouri, April 1-4, 2019. The theme will be “Beloved Community: A Call to Holiness and Justice” and all plenaries, seminars and lodging will be in the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark. 
The Theologian in Residence will be Brother Emile from the Taize Community, and participants will be given the opportunity to pray three times a day in the Taize style. The Banquet Speaker will be Rev. F. Willis Johnson, former pastor of Wellspring UMC in Ferguson. Missouri Bishop Robert Farr and Catholic Archbishop Carlson will offer a joint plenary. 
“The National Workshop is an excellent time for Christians (both those new to ecumenism/interreligious engagement and those who have been participating in unity work for a long time) to come together for worship, fellowship, training and motivation,” said Rev. Jean Hawxhurst, the United Methodist Council of Bishops’ Ecumenical Staff Officer for Leadership Development.     
“The individual networks that parallel the National Workshop also offer opportunities to learn what is going on within particular faith communions in terms of ecumenical/interreligious ministry. I highly recommend this annual opportunity for all official annual conference representatives and for all United Methodists interested in unity and reconciliation.”  
Rev. Bruce Baxter attended the National Workshop on Christian Unity in Silver Springs, Maryland, last year as the ecumenical representative for the Missouri Conference cabinet. He found it to be a worthwhile event. 
“It broadened my perspective on the efforts that our denomination and others are expending to form ways to work together,” Baxter said. 
Rev. Bart Hildreth of First UMC in St. Charles was the Missouri Conference ecumenical representative for the cabinet for eight years. Now that he is back in a local church, he still works with the Missouri Conference on ecumenical events in the St. Louis area. He’s part of the local planning team for the National Workshop on Christian Unity. 
“I think this is a good event for anyone who believes God’s kingdom is bigger than our own tribe,” Hildreth said. “We can do more together than when we are separated.”
Hildreth was an ordained Baptist minister before he became a United Methodist. He did his PhD dissertation on a Roman Catholic theologian. He said this has allowed him to develop the language of other Christian denominations. 
“It behooves all of us in border regions to be conversant in the language of others,” he said. “Our world is too big for us not to know how to speak each other’s language.”
The annual UMEIT: USA ecumenical/interreligious training will be offered on April 1. This is a training for annual conference CUIR Chairs and other Methodists interested in ecumenical ministry. Later in the week Methodists and Episcopalians will gather together to talk about the full communion proposal currently between the two denominations.     
Scholarships are available to attend the event. If you are interested in applying for a scholarship contact Baxter at For more information about the NWCU, go to


Bishop Farr on Ecumenicism

By Fred Koenig

Last year while in a prayer rally at Ferguson, Bishop Farr met Catholic Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis. Upon meeting the two decided they would like to get to know each other better and said they should meet for lunch. 
It takes a few months to line up the calendars of two judicatory leaders, but they did arrive at a date, and Bishop Farr had lunch with Archbishop Carlson at his parsonage, a large historic home down the block from the St. Louis Basilica. 
“It was really nice,” Bishop Farr said. “We spent a couple of hours talking about unimportant things.”
Bishop Farr learned something that gets lost among many people when looking at the Catholic hierarchy: Archbishops are real people. 
“He grew up in Minnesota,” Bishop Farr said. “He’s a country boy like me.” Bishop Farr wanted to return the hospitality, so he invited Archbishop Carlson to come to his house for dinner. Again, it took a few months to get their schedules together, but Archbishop Carlson did come to the Farr residence, a small ranch house Bishop Farr and his wife moved to this year, located amongst farm fields about 15 miles outside of Columbia, with a pond in the back stocked with catfish and bass. Bishop Farr fried fish for dinner. 
The relationship between the two formed naturally. Archbishop Carlson, who has been in the priesthood nearly 50 years and has been an archbishop for 10 years had never met a United Methodist bishop before. Bishop Farr has a gift of being able to relate to almost anyone. He was surprised how unusual others found their relationship to be. 
“I find it interesting that everyone finds (their friendship) interesting,” Bishop Farr said. 
As a former pastor in the St. Louis area, Bishop Farr knew the importance of being able to relate to Catholics. 
“At Church of the Shepherd probably a third of the congregation had a Catholic background,” Bishop Farr said. 
When Bishop Farr started Grace United Methodist Church in Lee’s Summit, he met a new priest to the area who was looking for a place to have worship. Grace rented them their family life center for Saturday night mass. 
“We were able to relate to each other as church planter to church planter,” Bishop Farr said. “As a church planter I knew how hard it was to find a place to worship.”
The new Catholic church ended up renting space from Grace UMC for years. “We were doing it as part of some intentional effort to be ecumenical. We were just being good neighbors,” Bishop Farr said.