The Revd Dr Philip Morgan is general secretary of the British Council of Churches
I HAVE been asked to say how those standing within the tradition of the British Council of Churches (BCC) perceive the new situation, so clearly spelt out in Mgr Vincent Nichols' article (alongside), and whether or not, in the words of 1%6 and All That. Catholic involvement with the rest of us is "a good thing"! Obviously it must be a personal view, though I hope representative of opinions held by many others.
The two most significant features of the new situation are the official commitment of the Catholic church in Britain and Ireland to be involved with other christians and the new style of working envisaged. For many years Catholics have been involved in councils of churches Locally, regionally and within the BCC, sometimes as full members, often as consultants and frequently as executive staff members. Their presence as individuals has served to show how important the official involvement of the Catholic church would be for our understanding of the nature and mission of Christ's church in our community at this time.
Our eagerness to enable this to be is best illustrated by the long history of invitation to the Catholic church to participate, stretching back to the founding of the BCC in 1942, and by the willingness of the BBC to die in hope of a better resurrection.
The phrase "official commitment" may seem a trifle cold in these heartwarming days. Both words, however, are of fundamental importance.
Ecumenism, or the search for that unity of his church that Christ wills, is not a private hobby for individual enthusiasts. It needs to be a basic principle of the life of our separated churches, so that the scandal of our division may be recognised for the sin it is and our desire as churches for amendment of life publicly expressed. Such is the importance of the official commitment of our churches.
The quality of our commitment is the other side of the coin. Commitment comes in many forms and at many levels. It is to do with making resources available, which include finance, the time of busy people, the results of work done and the interpretation of traditional insights in ways which are accessible to those of other traditions.
It is a serious loss that no Catholic is amongst the senior staff appointed to any of the new councils. Ways perhaps should have been found to encourage more Catholics of suitable quality to offer their services.
Commitment also involves encouraging everyone in every place in the churches to seek opportunities to relate to those of other traditions, to act together where possible and to check before beginning a new piece of work unilaterally if
anyone else is working in that area, and perhaps most importantly to stay together when the questions are difficult and the journey is hard.
One clear advantage of a Catholic presence with the other churches is that the other churches have the opportunity and indeed the necessity of examining the quality of their own commitment — which may have been taken for granted and as a result lost some of its zeal! Catholic involvement makes our pilgrimage more fully representative of the christian community in these islands.
It will highlight parts of the church's agenda to the benefit of all, most notably perhaps in the area of ecclesiology. A sharing of our traditions of spirituality, of moral theology and of evangelism will be mutually enriching.
It would be wrong however to ignore some negative reactions to the official involvement of the Catholic church. It is feared that the place of women in the life and leadership of the churches acting together will be set back. It is questioned if a church with so distinctive a view of authority and practice of authority will be able to hear the experience and conviction of others.
And we are all saddened that two churches which hitherto have been part of the BCC, the Presbyterian Church of Ireland and the Baptist Union of Scotland, are unwilling to be associated with the new bodies, in part because the Catholic church will be.
Whilst we must hear these voices, they should neither deter us from the pilgrimage nor divert us from recognising the major gain they illustrate, namely that now we can wrestle with these continuing questions together rather than from separate and often distant armed camps!
Catholic participation with the rest of us is not only a good thing, it is necessary for the integrity and faithfulness of all the churches in these islands. That we do not see the outcome of our pilgrimage is a normal condition of a life of faith. To live by faith is always a risky business and there is no reason to suppose our present act of faith is any less risky.
But what we do is not primarily of ourselves, but of God, and, because it is, all of us have cause to rejoice and in hopeful obedience to walk on together.