What started out as a beautiful friendship between two council of churches has now become Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, which celebrated its 30th Anniversary yesterday. The Oregon-based Christian ministry has grown to encompass 17 Christian denominations who take on the “collective task of building a just and compassionate world for all people” by collaborating with congregations, ecumenical and inter-faith organizations.
David A. Leslie, who has been the executive director of EMO since 1997, explains why it is necessary for a Christian ministry to co-work with other organizations in the community to achieve the best for the people.
"We have an understanding that the call of the Gospel should not be pejorative -- 'it's my way or the highway' -- but one more grounded in basic ecumenical principles," said Leslie.
President of Ecumenical Ministries, Rev. Eugene Ross, says, "It all goes back to the original reason for ecumenism."
Ross says that in the Gospel of John, Jesus prays for the disciples to become one and for all who believe in Jesus will be united by their communal testimony of him. Ross is also a conference minister for the Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ.
"Ecumenism", a Greek word that means "The whole of the inhabited world" has been taken from Jesus time and re-applied today through Ecumenical Ministries.
"At the deepest level, it is a theological affirmation that none of us is complete without the other," Leslie says. "It is the belief that my sense of well-being is enhanced by my knowledge of and contact with people who live on the other side of the state, who come from another religious or cultural background."
OREGON--Other organizations in Oregon who are also trying to promote ecumenism include the Lane Institute for Faith Education in Lane County and Northwest Portland Ministries. But none of them have the history of EMO, which has roots back to 1917, when the Home Mission Council was created to promote evangelism in Oregon. A few years later, the Portland Council of Churches, a group of congregations, and the Oregon Council of Churches, a group of denominations, were born. EMO was founded in 1974, about ten years after the Vatican II recognized the value of working with people of other traditions. The Archdiocese of Portland became one of the first Catholic dioceses to support the fresh perspective.
The future looks bright for EMO, who celebrated their own accounting, an annual operating budget of $2.4 million, and a staff of 50 people and 1,500 volunteers.
Servicing over 30,000 people in Oregon, the ministry provides assistance and address public policy issues in areas such as poverty, hunger, housing, refugee resettlement, medical and social services. Ecumenical and interfaith talks about ethics and environmental concerns such as global warming and energy conservation are also initiated into discussion at EMO lectures and conferences.
On March 2-3, EMO will sponsor the 36th annual Collins Lecture with the title: "Peace, Patriotism & the Prophetic Voice of the Church." Rev. Tony Campolo, a Baptist minister and founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, will be the featured speaker for the event, which will take place at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland, Oregon.
Having conferences and talks is something EMO does to know the issues of the community first-hand.
"To help people find a space and place so that they can speak in the first person, so we can hear what it means to be a farm worker, not edited, but straightforward. What does it mean to be unemployed, in the process of finding work and feeding your family? What does it mean to be a Muslim working in our community, or a fifth-generation Presbyterian?" explains Leslie.
Leslie has represented Oregon on many occasions such as the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., for the Oregon State Day event last year and the consecration of a new Greek Orthodox cathedral in Havana, Cuba, last month.
Thirty years old and still going, EMO stays true to its name. "We invite you in to share your faith, to learn, to grow, to work, spiritually together," says Leslie.