by Fr. HERBERT KELDANY
THE ecumenical movement is an outstanding feature of our time by any standard of judgment. yet it appears to be too technical for some and too vague for others. It is moving much too fast to be sound. say a majority. while the informed deplore the inadequate feed-back they get.
Is this merely a matter of inadequate reporting or something inherent in the variety of ways in which complex questions are being tackled? Probably it is a mixture of both, as it seems to apply pretty uniformly to most efforts: formal discussions. such as those held at Windsor in the latest round of the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue at world level. and more casually in the vast concourse of young people who have been flocking to the unique Protestant monastery at Taize in Burgundy this summer; or the semiprogrammed assembly of Pentecostalists in Guildford earlier on.
In each case the image gathered from reports is blurred, not because nothing happened except a lot of talk, as some would have it. but rather because so much was done in the way of praying, working and planning. as well as making friends. that it is hard to condense and convey the achievement tersely.
This is a pity, for there is plenty happening which could hearten spirits, disabuse the prejudiced and hearten the shy. but above all do away with the notion that there is nothing more to be done to bring about Christian unity. The affect of studying these convergent efforts. especially as they gradually bring about national and local results. suggests to me that they enjoy the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Much prayer lies behind the series of international discussions initiated at Gazzada in 1967. Much research paved the way for the papers read at the Dublin gathering of 120 Jesuit ecumcnists—the fourth of its kind. Immense preparations lay behind the more broadly based meeting of the Faith and Order Department of the World Council of Churches in Louvain which had links reaching back to Edinburgh in 1910.
In addition to the immediate follow-up of these summer meetings we shall soon have the stimulus of the continuous work done in a new institution which will open its doors in Jerusalem this autumn. Unlike any previous ecumenical enterprise it is a house for advance study initiated by Pope Paul and supported by all the Churches.
The first band of scholars are assembling. headed by Catholic. Orthodox and Protestant rectors. to promote unity on the basis of a cornmon understanding of the mystery of faith. Treading in the footsteps of Our Lord and surrounded by the -tensions between Jews and Moslems, they will have opportunities hitherto unrivalled and their influence may be expected to be far-reaching, There is also much happening at home at the local level. So much indeed that there has recently been published the third of a series of reports describing ecumenical work in various parts of Britain.
All three are from the typewriter of the Rev. Bob Jeffrey. secretary of the Mission and Unity Department of the British Council of Churches, who is soon to become the vicar of Headington. near Oxford. His first two reports. "Areas of Ecumenical Experiment," and "Local Coun cils of Churches" are completed by an "Ecumenical Experiments Handbook."
Together they provide a detailed picture of the changes which accompany the movement of people into new towns and ways of life. A priest who moves into a new area today may have no church or school, live in a council house, say one Mass in the Methodist chapel and another in the Anglican church on Sunday, and discuss pastoral concerns of the whole community with his clerical brethren every Thursday, this with results that are hound to he far-reaching.
Of course many of the instances detailed in the Jeffery reports affect only a small proportion of the population as yet, but the trend is bound to increase. So it may be of interest to mention a Catholic report on "Shared Premises and Team Ministry" which was presented recently to the Ecumenical Commission for England and Wales.
This document will be discussed during the two-day meeting of the commission which is to take place at Regent's Park this weekend. It brings together bishops. clergy and laity from every diocese and is the principal arm of the Conference of Bishops in matters ecumenical.
Its work is practically unknown, though the record set out in its bulletins over the past four years is at least as creditable as those of any other country. The current issue, whielt lists no fewer than 36 items. reflects the energy of -the newly-appointed first full-time secretary. Fr. Dick Stewart. until lately on the staff at Wonersh.
Much of the information could be helpful not only to clergy and laity engaged in ecumenical work. but also to those who have to study and make plans for the future in our own Church or in others. Nothing here is embargoed, so if enough people show their interest it should surely prove possible to print the next number and ensure for it something like the same circulation at home and abroad as the Liturgical Newsletter published by Chapman.
Some will say that there is too much print to keep up with as it is, but there are others who are held up not so much because they are unwilling as because they lack the know-how. Ecumenism has properly waited for the liturgical changes to take effect, because it depends on the renewal for its momentum.
Now the sense of urgency is mounting. An expression of this is to be seen in the carefully matured plans recently published for a big meeting of leading churchmen in Birmingham next year. It will be the largest of its kind since the one held in Nottingham in 1964. when for the first time half a dozen Catholic observers were present.
Almost ten times as many are expected in Birmingham. led by two Cardinals and taking a full part—the Archbishop of Westminster is giving a key speech and the Archbishop of Edinburgh heading one of the main commissions.
The overall theme of the conference to be held in Queen's College next September is very apposite: "Discovering God's Will Together." This is arguably the best translation into everyday language of the main thrust of ecumenism. It could profitably inspire a wide range of preliminary meetings.
Certainly any ecumenical group which meets regularly could do much worse than arrange for its programme to take into account the themes of the four keynote papers— The Crisis of Faith, The Face of Britain. Faith in God and Man, the Roman Catholic Church Today.
The way these topics are tackled will depend on the capacities and opportunities of each group, but one and all will play a useful part in filling the gap which undoubtedly exists between the experts and the men and women in the pews.
Wherever there is room for more unity there the Christian contribution must be stated. but only those who have thought it out beforehand will be listened to; so there is plenty of work for everyone in parish. school. mixed group and informal occasion alike.
A great help in doing this is to be quite clear about the changes which arc going on. What is static and what must be open to renewal is clearly distinguished by Fr. Bernard Lonergan, S.J.: "There is no need to insist that novelty resides not in a new revelation, or a new Faith, but in the cultural context.
"Theology is a product not only of the religion it investigates or expounds. but also of the cultural norms and ideas that set it problems and direct its solutions. Theology is locked in an encounter with this age and has to be interpreted in the light of contemporary techniques and procedures.
"Besides the meanings by which man apprehends nature there are those by which he transforms it, thinks out the possibilities of his own living, and makes a choice among them. In this realm of freedom and creativity, of solidarity and responsibility, dazzling achievement and pitiable madness, there ever occurs man's making of man."
To grapple with the problems of the 'Seventies it is obvious that the work has to be shared out between various working units—theological. practical. historical, sociological. The. results will have to be collated and edited, and finally communicated as widely and as effectively as our instant culture demands.
If ecumenism. as 1 hold. has a contribution to make in all this there is plenty of work to be done. if only to recognise the human factors that underlie hopes, fears and aspirations. That is why more and more spadework will have to be done by standing back from active programmes and taking into account the bearing of wider preoccupations.
How does religious freedom affect relations between believers and non-believers? Can Christian renewal come about without taking other monotheists into account? Obviously both the Orthodox and the Protestant traditions can pave the way for a unity in diversity. but how much does the order of execution influence our grasp of the hierarchy of revealed truth?
Has not precedent a contribution to make in all serious experiments? The more people know the answers to these questions the happier everyone will be; so the sooner we sit down together the quicker shall we explore the many and various ways of discovering God's will.