Mgr Vincent Nichols is general secretary of the Catholic bishops, conference of England and Wales.
AT the ecumenical conference in Swanwick in September 1987, Cardinal Basil Hume said that, in his view, the Catholic community ought "to move quite deliberately from a situation of co-operation to one of commitment" to other churches. This view was then expressed in the so-called "Swanwick Declaration", which became the basis on which the churches in Britain combined for more effective ways of working together.
These same words have now become part of the service of inauguration of the new Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland, taking place next Saturday (September 8). We shall pray "Our earnest desire is to become more fully in your own time, the one church of Christ, united in faith, communion, pastoral care and mission".
Much has happened since Swanwick 1987. Detailed discussion about "new ecumenical instruments" has led to the agreement between the churches, which lies at the basis of the services of inauguration to take place in the first week of September. The shape of these services tell us a great deal about what has been achieved and about what is hoped for.
This Saturday (September 1) services of inauguration of the new national bodies will take place in London, Aberystwyth and Dunblane. These come first, as one of the principles embodied in the new ecumenical bodies is that as much as possible must be focussed locally, whether that means the neighbourhood, the region or the nation. In other words, these new bodies are there to serve the local life of the churches, as they seek to act together in the full range of Christian living. This clear intention is echoed in the titles of the new bodies: Churches Together in England (CTS); Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS); and CYTON, which, in Welsh, stands for a similar title.
So a crucial step in the services of inauguration will be to assemble the churches. For CTE this will take a format echoing the opening ceremony of the whole inter-church process back in 1985: candles representing the life of faith of each of the participating churches will be placed side by side as a symbol of mutual commitment. And this assembly of churches is full, bringing into formal ecumenical relationships for the first time both the black-led churches" and ourselves.
But each ceremony will also make clear that what we are seeking to establish is not new super-structures which will act on behalf of all their "subscribing members", but rather service agencies which will enable the participating churches to act together more effectively. As the words of one of the ceremonies say, at the point of staff commissioning, "you have been chosen to serve the churches in Britain and Ireland in the new ecumenical initiatives we inaugurate today".
The ceremony of inauguration for the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland (CCB1) takes place in Liverpool next Saturday (September 8), once the national bodies are firmly in place. For CCB1 has a co-ordinating and enabling role, too, ensuring that issues which canot be dealt with locally or nationally, or the broader dimensions of local issues, are tackled by the churches acting together at this level.
The situation of the two cathedrals in Liverpool also gives the opportunity of expressing another key aspect of this whole ecumenical endeavour. The Liverpool ceremony will include the "pilgrim walk" from one cathedral to another. During this walk, the pilgrims will be asked to talk with one another, sharing some thoughts about their own personal ecumenical pilgrimage and concluding with a personal prayer, written on a card which is then taken to the altar, offered to God. In this facet of the service so many important points are to be found; ecumenism has its practical foundations in the readiness of people to share their faith with one another; it can contain both joy and pain, but it must be characterised by honest talking; and it must be rooted in, and lead to, a sharing of prayer, for our pilgrimage is God's own work.
So, after these inaugurations what comes next? In a phrase: "on with the work". The services will conclude with a strong sense of our mission, a call from God, to tell forth his praise in word and service of his people. A decade of evangelisation lies at hand and the churches must find ways of bringing the gospel message to bear on every facet of public life.
But we must also be ready to share our faith with each other. There are many points of serious dialogue to be carried on between the churches as to how we understand God's action in our world, about how we discern God's will, and about how we, as, christian churches, whether singly or together, come to speak with authority in the name of the gospel as we believe we are sent to do.
The services of the next two Saturdays are historic moments. But they are only moments. The pilgrim way lies ahead and, with God's grace, it is the way we must take.