Page 10, 26th January 1979

26th January 1979
Page 10
Page 10, 26th January 1979 — Ecumenical movement at some sort of brink

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Locations: Venice, Rome


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Ecumenical movement at some sort of brink

MOST of you will have noticed that we have emerged unscathed and, I fear, U unchanged from Christian nity Week.

A few of you may have attended some joint and civilised and rather non-committal sort of service in your own or someone else's church or chapel. With it went a rather banal service-sheet from the British Council of Churches, of which the Catholic Church is not a member.

It did, however, contain St Francis of Assisi's stupendous prayer: "Lord, make us instruments of Thy peace." He chose to write in a fairly rough vernacular so that, unlike classical poetry, it translates perfectly into English.

However, we did not use it in our village and I have a nasty suspicion that the commanding and confident love he writes of is growing cool between the Anglicans and the Catholics.

These Christian Unity celebrations have become a bit routine. They have become like Armistice Day celebrations without the emotions, without the appalled regrets and without the Queen. The religious equivalent of nationalism does still dimly hover over the whole affair -speak Popes, cardinals, Primates of All England and underpaid theologians meeting in conference in cities like Venice never so much.

But clearly the ecumenical movement is for the moment standing motionless on a brink. It is uncertain upon the brink of what we are all standing.

Of a bottomless boredom? Of nothing? Of self-destruction or even of betrayal? Of a place which is as far as we can go? Of something so great and holy that all the angels will greet us on the other side? It's no use asking me. I just work here. Occasionally.

But we have gone a very long way in reaching this brink and the anti-ecumenists who tend alternatively to whine or to try to speak in voices of divine thunder are reasserting themselves.

A certain jealousy is showing itself among Catholics. They have borne the heat of the day while bishops of the other sort were riding in emblazoned carriages. They belong to the One, True, etc ... and don't you forget it.

And we are overdoing the concessions while all we get in return is Benedictines allowed back occasionally to sing in choir stalls that their lineal predecessors built, and to say Mass at surviving altars that were built for the Mass and nothing but the Mass.

Then the Anglicans, to have been getting a little restive. Rome still has much to surrender, and not merely Anglican authenticity but their de facto superiority in this kingdom must be recognised. Practical equality has not yet been offered.

The Free Churches have been gentle, surprisingly so, and a reproach to us all. But they cannot even unite with • their fellow-Christians whom the Shorter Oxford Dictionary describes as "Protestant" — "A member or adherent of any Christian Church or body severed from the Roman communion in the Reformation of the 16th century: hence, generally, any member of a Western Church outside the Roman Communion 1553".

And on the brink there is undoubtedly a recrudescence of the sound old No-Popery hatreds and fears which have been described as the "residual religion of the English".

Be that as it may, in our much restored but very active Anglican church, we prayed and sang away. The rector used his stall on the epistle side of the choir and the parish priest a similar one on the Gospel side. The Methodist was put into the sanctuary.

It was he who preached, a civilised young man in bands who used as his text about Unity a quotation from an article by Mr Peregrine Worsthorne in The Sunday Telegraph — though not without most carefully disassociating himself from the political views of the writer and the newspaper.

But it was sound and eloquent stuff and it was good to be praying with so many neighbours who normally of a Sunday go their separate ways. But who now is going to test the depths and dangers and the infinite promises of the brink on which we stand

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