President Gayle D. Beebe has returned from his historic meeting with Pope Francis inspired and motivated. “I have a renewed sense of the necessity and importance of my work at Westmont and with the broader Christian community and the opportunity to carry it out with so many wonderful people,” he says.
Beebe and 14 North American, non-Catholic, Christian leaders met privately with the pope on June 5 at the Vatican. Beebe, representing Christian higher education in the ecumenical conversation, was joined by politicians, theologians and pastors. He was the only college president in the group that included, Doug Coe, associate director of the Fellowship, Senator Mike Lee of Utah, former Senator Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho, and Joel Osteen, pastor of the largest congregation in North America.
The pope invited the non-Catholic church leaders to discuss the question: “Can we find common ground in order to advance the life and ministry of Jesus so more people can experience the joy of Christian faith?”
Beebe says he experienced an overwhelming sense of joy when he was with the pope. “He is incredibly warm and personable,” he says. “Not remote in the least. And the sense of coordinated purpose — the cardinals heading up his initiative have a strong sense of intentionality and purpose.”
Beebe says the key to finding common ground will be to focus on the wide array of issues where the two sides can work together. “We need to learn to respect difference on non-essentials and celebrate unity on our common interest and desire to follow Christ,” he says.
Montecito’s four churches, known collectively as the M-4, meet periodically each year for a joint service projects. Montecito Covenant, All Saints-by-the-Sea Episcopal, El Montecito Presbyterian and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Churches also gather for an annual Thanksgiving worship service. “M-4 is a microcosm of Pope Francis’ interest that we get outside ourselves,” Beebe says. “All followers of God know that the greatest blessings in life come when we stop focusing on ourselves and begin to focus on others.”