|The Future of Ecumenism|
As part of the Lent series at Christ Church, Rev Canon Jeff King spoke from his experience working as the Anglican Diocesan Ecumenical Officer.
It appears that there are many different aspects of being an ecumenical officer: covenants, LEPs and Constitutions. The speaker said that he was a bit daunted by the title – the Future? His talk on Monday 27 March drew on examples and inspiration from examples of ecumenical work to provide a hope for continuing and developing ecumenical works.
From the dictionary ‘ecumenical' comes from ‘One House' - the whole inhabited world. Our concern is the whole world in terms of faith. The present ecumenical movement today commenced after a council meeting in Edinburgh in 1910; there have been many historic works that have gone before.
The word ecumenism often means things like:
* Boring lent groups
* Dull and characterless worship
* Lots of extra meetings
* An optional extra
* Enthusiasm from the 1960 & 1970
* A distraction from the proper task
* An excuse to do whatever you like to do
* John 17
* From a previous generation
* Something to feel guilty about
* Small churches being taken over by small powerful rich Churches
* Large churches being taken over my small, keen, efficient, driven churches
* Something the vicar is keen on
* Washing up in other people's kitchens
From where our unity derives
The church has lived with division for many centuries. We may be complacent about overcoming the barriers – we may find it easier to live with the problems. This evening we will look at the high priestly prayer within John 17 where Jesus prays most earnestly that they be one. A unity that is rooted in his relationship with his Father. Finding the unity that Jesus prays for is a unity that we cannot ignore.
Much energy has been used at theological and doctrinal levels with a lot of agreement, especially on what the sacrament of communion is all about, even though we don't yet have full shared communion. Unity has been manifested in agreements. The Meissen Agreement and others are notable in many ways; not least with churches without bishops in their hierarchy. Further developments with the Methodist church are part of these discussions.
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland embraces a very wide range of churches; there are full links from our own local Churches Together in Harrogate website (www.ctharrogate.org.uk)
The ecumenical body in Leeds works to draw in other churches outside the ecumenical body; Mike Love is a key mover despite being part of a non-member church – one of the ‘New' or ‘House' churches. In Harrogate, two ‘New' churches are subscribing members of Churches Together in Harrogate.
The end products that we look for include:
* Reconciled diversity: the preservation of distinctive gifts – reconciled with one another and taking counsel together.
* Unity in solidarity – not just in doctrine but also in the struggle against evil and justice
* A communion of communions: united but not absorbed with distinctive features
* Federal unity: A unity that maintains full autonomy
* Concilliar fellowship – holding fellowship together in councils and counsel
* Organic structure: A common structure dissolving different traditions. Not an impossible state but a lot of ground to be covered to get there.
Inspirational examples of ecumenism around the world:
Often small congregations struggle to maintain their building – often the only church in the village. For example, Methodist ministers may have as many as 18 chapels to look after across rural Yorkshire. Small inner city congregations struggle to keep the large buildings open.
Shared buildings often make sense, even though it may not be the best reason for shared fellowship. Even so, when churches join together in this way, they often find the joys of such union.
'Fresh Expressions' illustrate some of the opportunities of unity and ecumenical work. Legislation often can cause problems which result in casual relationships without formal structures. Separate membership can continue until new members arrive who see themselves as members of the new united building.
The Taizé community in France illustrates how strong the desire is for unity, especially amongst the younger generations. The concerns of the worshippers tend to be the needs of the world, their communities and neighbours rather than denominational issues.
The Iona and Northumbria communities have provided liturgies and worship which have been adopted in many other church groups.
Another which often misses the headlines is the vocation of young folk gathering to live and work in poorer areas such as south Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield. They succeed in ways that we in larger churches struggle to work with small children through their clubs, perhaps through their dedication or evangelicalism. They tend to come from many different churches.
The threats to ecumenism:
From The Times on 27 March 2006: it has been reported that if the United States ordains another gay bishop then the possibility of schism is far greater in the Anglican Communion.
As fast as we plug one hole in the dyke, another hole appears, getting in the way of further growth.
There has been a growth in new movements over the last sixty years or so.
Ecology and the vision for ecumenism which takes us beyond where we are at the moment:
The unity for which Jesus was praying was for a unity within each one of us. Rowan Williams when in Syria said: “I said that the church is one because Jesus Christ is one….. In Holy Communion we are drawn into praying the prayer of Jesus, and being where Jesus is.”
All that we say about engaging with in another needs to rooted on that relationship of Jesus with his Father; unless we are living that life in the Spirit, we will be divided.
The future development of ecumenism itself must embrace a wider vision for the whole created order. Our expression of God's love must include people of all faiths and none – our ultimate vision is to embrace the whole of humanity.