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Whitworth Theology Department Annual Newsletter 2018

Karen Petersen Finch (2008-present), Associate Professor of Theology

Greetings from Rome! 

Last year I wrote about the many opportunities for ecumenical scholarship and travel that were coming my way. The most exciting was the opportunity to live and write in Rome for my six-month sabbatical.  Today I am looking out my bedroom window and trying to memorize this garden on the Caelian Hill, formerly Nero's garden and now shared by the Passionist Order and the Lay Centre, my host. I have just a few more weeks in Rome to reflect on God's goodness to me here.

First, the roads that led to Rome: Every scholarly conference of the last year seems to have birthed another opportunity. In October I presented at St. Paul University (Catholic) in Ottawa, Canada, on "The Value of Polemic Language: Regarding a Roman Catholic Reception of the Heidelberg Catechism." I was invited to submit an article by the same name to St. Paul's academic journal, TheoForum. On the Reformed side, a slightly different approach to the same topic appears as my chapter in a celebration volume for the retirement of Dr. Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School and a veteran ecumenist. You can find that just-published volume at

In November I traveled to Canberra, Australia, to speak on "Lonergan's Method as Scaffolding for Ecumenical Discernment" at the Fourth International Conference on Receptive Ecumenism. To my delight, many of the ecumenists I met in Canberra have some connection to Rome or are based in Rome, so I have been able to continue those relationships while making new ones. I have also been invited to submit my presentation as a chapter for an upcoming book, A Forum for Theology in the World.

However, the heart of my scholarly work in Rome has revolved around the idea of local ecumenism. Why have the international dialogues of the Faith and Order movement not been matched by doctrinal discussion among lay people? I am writing a manual for conversation between Reformed and Catholic believers in their local setting, and I will begin using the manual for the first time this fall with members of Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church. We are looking for a neighboring Catholic parish to join us. I also presented my research findings in March in Bologna, Italy, at the European Academy of Religion First Annual Meeting. There is deep concern and interest about the form that ecumenism should take in the 21st century, and my project ("Local Ecumenism: Precedents, Method and Questions") was very well received.

I wish I had space to describe the personal and spiritual benefits of my time here: the renewed commitment to my Reformed tradition and to dialogue, the joy of knowing other ecumenists and the joys of friendship. I have especially enjoyed Fr. Gerard Whelan, S.J., professor of fundamental theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, who has made me an honorary member of the Gregorian's Lonergan Club. Lonergan's retrieval of Thomas Aquinas has equipped me to think critically about the role of subtle factors, like epistemology and method, that may be getting in the way of Christian unity.  So it is fitting that I will end my time in Rome by flying to Boston College on June 13, to present for the Lonergan Workshop on "Epistemological Obstacles in the Contemporary Ecumenical Movement." 

Many blessings to each of you, and please join me in praying and working for the unity of Christians.