By Kristen Opalinski


A Look Back at the 2021 National Workshop on Christian Unity


Abide in my love … you shall bear much fruit.


It was the theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and in turn, became an echo for this year’s National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU). After last year’s workshop in Houston was canceled due to the global pandemic, focus turned to 2021, and with it questions of how best to move the work of the NWCU forward. These questions of “what now?” and “what next?” have become all too familiar. Conferences have shifted to digital spaces, and with these shifts, questions about our ability to authentically engage, to create opportunities to inspire, challenge, and grow together.


Abide in my love … you shall bear much fruit.


Perhaps, there is no better reminder of our life together in Christ in the midst of such a challenging time than this message from John 15. These are words of mutual comfort and mutual resilience, but they are also words that seek to move us into active participation. We abide in Christ to bear the fruits of justice, love, and reconciliation – to not simply lend a hand in the vineyard, but to cultivate, through Christ, the fruit that brings transformation and renewal. This year’s National Workshop (April 12 -15) sought to look at the myriad of ways in which we are being called as Christians into this season of cultivation, to roll up our sleeves, ask the difficult questions, and then dig into the soil around us. Themes of Christian hospitality, human fraternity, racial justice, immigration, and care for creation were the seeds for our week of listening, learning, and engagement.


Abide in my love … you shall bear much fruit.


Leaders and musicians from various churches joined together for a stirring opening worship. The Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, delivered a sermon that framed the important work of introspective evangelization noting that, “it may well be that our great evangelistic task will be the re-evangelization of Christianity itself.”

Participants were welcomed into morning meditations on various aspects of Christian hospitality led by Fr. William Skudlarek, OSB, Associate Professor of Theology at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville, Minn. His sessions for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are available for further reflection and usage.

The theme of Christian hospitality continued with sessions centered on our call to respond to the needs of immigrant communities and those seeking asylum. Wednesday’s Bishops at the Border conversation brought together four bishops serving geographic areas along the southern border of the United States, including Bishop Sue Briner of the Southwestern Texas Synod of the ELCA. On Thursday, a session titled Human Migration, Asylum, and the Church, assembled practitioners from three churches, including Christopher Vergara from the ELCA, to discuss grassroots responses to the challenges faced by immigrants and those seeking safety and a new beginning in the United States.

Other themes highlighted throughout the week included a keynote on human fraternity, and sessions on care for creation, countering racism, and exploring new ways for religious exchange in digital spaces.

The entire playlist of sessions from the 2021 NWCU can be viewed through the Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officers (EDIEO) YouTube channel.


Abide in my love … you shall bear much fruit.


This year has forced us all to see life and relationships in new ways, to see opportunities in unlikely places, and to find ways to continue to gather despite out physical separation. As the NWCU looks toward the future, we hope to carry the lessons of this year forward as we continue to broaden engagement in the workshop. The Rev. Tura Foster Gillespie, chair of the 2021 National Planning Committee for the NWCU reflected on this year’s workshop and the doors that it opened with the following, “We were blessed that the online platform afforded us new opportunities. Attendants and speakers were no longer geographically limited.  This made some normally unattainable speakers a reality and I am overwhelmed with how gracious and inspiring they were.  It was amazing to see God work in wonderful ways to make some positive things come out of such a hard year.”

While we hope to gather in-person for the 2022 NWCU in Garden Grove, Calif., there are plans currently being developed for a hybrid model that will continue to allow for further expanding participation.


In addition to all of the content from this year’s NWCU,  be sure to check out Rev. Paul Benz’s post reflecting on this year’s Ecumenical Advocacy Days, which also gathered digitally in April, under the theme Imagine God’s Earth and People Restored.



Kristen Opalinski serves as manager for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations for the ELCA.