Page 4, 16th January 1976

16th January 1976
Page 4
Page 4, 16th January 1976 — ECUMENISM AT LOCAL LEVEL

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Locations: London, Canterbury


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THE theme for the 1976 observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is "Called To Become What We Are." This theme is suggested by a passage from the First Epistle of St John 3:2, which reads: "We are God's children: what we shall be has not been disclosed but we know that when it is disclosed, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as he is."

Though there are certainly areas of exciting ecumenical ac

tivity, there is not yet a in whole-hearted ecumenical commitment by Christians n Britain. It would seem that we are still somewhat concerned with an inward preservation of our denominational isolationism.

But isolationism is really outdated and outmoded: for what affects one Church affects all today questions of unbelief, declining Church membership, rejection of the institutional Churches by the youth, inflation, Church schools, moral problems, racism, social justice and peace, and so on. This is not to say that there is not a richness in our various traditions, and that each denomination has not an uniqueness and something of value to contribute to the Universal Church. It is legitimate to be proud of our various denominations, and to preserve their heritage. It is just that it would seem that the time has now come for more openness, tolerance, co-operation. sharing and interaction between our different Churches — and that our major concern he for an ecumenical thrust for a greater missionary outreach, especially in Britain. We believe that it is Christ's desire that we be committed to Christian mission and evangelisation. Yet mission lacks conviction while Christians remain divided and opposed to one another. Is not, then, the cause of Christian unity extremely necessary and important?

The Ecumenical Commission of England and Wales produced a booklet this year entitled "With One Voice: Catholics and Joint Evangelisation," which states: "Non-Christians find it difficult to accept the Christian Gospel. and they point with disconcerting accuracy to one major obstacle — the fact of Christian disunity."

Pope Paul has also said: "We cannot shirk our responsibility before unbelief," and that "the unbelief of many of our contemporaries must give us a new awareness of the urgency of curing our present divisions."

Ecumenical activity at the local level of Church life has this year received a boost from a document issued by the Vatican's Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity', entitled: "Ecumenical Collaboration at the Regional, National and Local Levels."

The focus is shifting. Local — rather than nationally or internationally initiated — activities should now come to the centre of the stage. The spotlight should shift from the "top brass," so to speak, to the local scene. In a letter to The Times, Canon Richard Stewart, Secretary of the Ecumenical Commission of England and Wales said: "The main thrust of the document (ecumenical collaboration) is not to put on the brakes, but to stimulate local Churches to take their proper share in ecumenical initiative."

An ecumenical commitment should not be an isolated aspect of our Christian lives, It should inspire our entire outlook and activity. Though we are members of particular denominations, we nevertheless need to develop an attitude whereby we are able to rise above barriers and view ourselves primarily as "Christians." And such an outlook should he becoming less of a difficulty.

With the publication, last year, of "The Common Catechism: A Christian Book of Faith" (Search Press, London), we are encouraged to consider that Protestants and Catholics do believe far more in common than we realised. Above all, we know what is common to us is that "Christians are those who are proud to confess Jesus Christ as God made man, the Saviour of all men ('When One Voice')."

Ecumenism, then, is for everyone. And what is really necessary is the ecumenical education of clergy and laity at the grass-roots so that all may come to accept this. As has been said, there is still much apathy with regard to ecumenism, and there are too many of us who are badly informed about the beliefs and practices of our fellow Christians of different persuasions. It would be helpful if we would all mix more locally, and so make a point of meeting each other. learning from one another, and worshipping in the various local churches — and not just at special ecumenical services. Particularly of current interest in Britain should be the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, which was formed by Pope Paul and Lord Ramsey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. This Commission has so far produced two "Agreed Statements" — the Windsor Statement on the Eucharist (1971) and the Canterbury Statement on Ministry and Ordination (1973).

At present the Commission is studying its final subject of authority in the Church. Hopefully, a satisfactory outcome will soon emerge. Should this prove to be so. it could well be that some kind of formal recognition of the Commission's work would soon come about by the two Churches. This in turn may well result in the acceptance of full communion. Should this be the case. it would become all the more imperative for the local church to he more aware of the common beliefs which we would than share.

And so, with this possibility in mind. we ought to he .asking what kind of preparation at the local level is now needed. This is important, as it is becoming apparent that there is an everwidening gap between contemporary theology and various dialogues and conversations and the average "man and woman in the pew." We Christians must not remain satisfied with merely peaceful, courteous and friendly co-existence. It is possible for Cornmunists and Christians to live in such a situation. Something more is demanded between Christians themselves.

And if Christians are really to be seen to love one another, then nothing less than Christian unity, with legitimate diversity will suffice.

And an acceptance of the idea of unity with diversity within our denominations, as well as between them, if we arc to be honestly more concerned with reconciliation than polarisation, is now becoming urgent.

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