I want to return to my sequence about the modern history of ecumenism. The last post about the Marigold Book was on 15 February. In November 2009, an informal consultation on the future of the ecumenical movement took place in Bristol.
As a result of this consultation an open letter was sent to the church leaders of Britain and Ireland , calling on them to examine and question the commitment of the churches themselves to ecumenism:
What is being asked for is not another re-examination of the ecumenical instruments as such – these need the fullest possible affirmation, support and resourcing – but a self-examination and mutual questioning of the churches themselves as to their ecumenical commitment, attitudes, and actual performance. What were the expectations in 1990? How far have the churches actually lived up to them? How much closer are they today than they were then? How far in practice are we ‘committed to’ each other?
The letter calls for the churches to renew their commitment to ecumenism and identifies three ecumenical resources; these are things to build upon:
- Ecumenical memory - our collective experience and insights
- Present and living experience, for example local ecumenical partnerships and the energy of younger people working across denominational boundaries for justice. (I would add that a significant element of the English scene is its intermediate bodies.)
- The hopes and prayers of ordinary church members.
The letter emphasises the need for new, holy imagination.
The consultation also published a helpful document, listing the concerns it raised: Called to be One - what now? The title refers to a publication of Churches Together in England in the mid-nineties, Called to be One (illustrated). I shall be writing about both publications in future posts.
The letter suggests the task is not simply unity, but changing the churches themselves. How might this be done?
But further, it was suggested at the meeting that other similar events could be organised by whoever wishes and in whatever context seems appropriate, at local, regional and national levels, in order to give opportunity for people, lay and ordained, to express their feelings about the current state of the churches, the direction which the movement for unity should take, the roles of church leaders and the best use of the ecumenical instruments. This would not in any way compete with what takes place at more formal and official levels but would help in creating and widening a new movement of informed enthusiasm, support and challenge for the journey begun by the pioneers at Edinburgh and undertaken anew with solemn commitment by the British and Irish churches twenty years ago.
This is most encouraging and I have argued for something similar several times in this blog, most recently within the last month or so.