There Is More that Connects Us than what Separates Us

by Lex Akers

A Romanian Orthodox Priest and a Wesleyan Methodist Minister walked into a Pub… It sounds like the start of some kind of religious joke, but instead it reflects an insight into an unusual ecumenical friendship. Father Doru Costache and I have been friends since we were introduced four years ago by a colleague while Doru was looking for a place for his small parish church to meet. Prior to our first meeting, I was nervous and wondered how Methodism could work with Orthodoxy but it turns out the answer is ‘very well’. My wife and I were recently appointed to the Pittwater Wesleyan Methodist Church and, after praying about the approach by Doru, we felt that a true representation of Christian faith would be to offer the hand of fellowship and share our small worship space. If I had known then what I know now I would not have hesitated. Doru and I have developed a deep and mutually beneficial friendship. We meet almost weekly for a few hours and discuss a wide variety of topics about church life and theology from our different perspectives. We will discuss anything from Patristics to Pentecostal experience, from St Gregory to St Paul, from Maximus the Confessor to John Wesley. What we have discovered is that there is more that connects us than what separates us. There is something about a friendship like this that breathes sustenance into ministry. Outside of the institutions that we are familiar with, we are free to speak of disappointments and celebrations, hurt and frustrations, dreams and visions. And on many more than one occasion we have been surprised by the insights shared by the other and the depth of understanding this creates. Our discussions often bring clarity to difficult situations and our respective views of theology and the church bring refreshing perspective to well worn thinking.

Dr Lex Akers (left) and Dr Doru Costache (right). Winnererremy Bay Foreshore Reserve, 18 September 2020

Of course, for this kind of ecumenical connection to work, you need to have an open mind. Simply defending one’s long held position immediately closes off the possibility of enlightenment. Sometimes we agree to disagree, but not often. I am more and more convinced that one of the problems we have in our traditions is the unwillingness to engage in dialogue for the fear that this may corrupt the perfection of our system. But, on the contrary, for me at least, this has been the birth of better thinking or more rounded thinking, and has led me to a deeper understanding of the faith of a fellow minister.

I don’t support the idea of some kind of ecumenical blend of every tradition that produces a new colour called ‘ecumenical beige’, but I do support and encourage more generous dialogue that fosters understanding. For too long we have been adversaries poking the finger at each other and calling out our differences. It is time to sit down together and listen. Who knows, we might actually learn something new, and the kingdom will be better off for it.

Acknowledgment. Originally published in A Celebration of Ut unum sint: The 25th Anniversary, ed. Doru Costache and Diane Speed (Sydney: NSW Ecumenical Council’s Theological Reflection Commission, 2020) 75-76.

30 November 2020 © AIOCS (for this version)

The Revd Dr Lex Akers is Pastor at the Pittwater Wesleyan Methodist Church at Mona Vale NSW and the NSW District Superintendent of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Australia. He also is a Lecturer at Excelsia College in Macquarie Park NSW.