by Fr. Richard Stewart
WHAT does the "man-inthe-pew" really think about progress towards Unity? Much ecumenical news lately has been about conferences and meetings — the Church Leaders' Conference, the talks at Gazzada, last week's meeting of the Ecumenical Cornmission, this week's visit of Cardinal Willebrands to Lambeth.
But meetings alone do not get us very far, and they do not involve everyone. What do people think?
This week is a good time to ask this question, since it has seen the formal coming together of the Congregationalist and Presbyterian Churches in this country into one United Reformed Church. (They say that the word "United" was not in the original title; but then someone thought that the resultant initials might lead to misunderstandings!) Welcome as this union is, a number of Congregationalist churches have voted to remain outside the new United church and will, at least for the time being, carry on as a separate body.
As yet, Catholic discussions with other Churches have not approached so crucial a stage. But there is constant progress in official conversations and meetings, particularly with the Anglican Communion, and in many areas there are excellent local relations. Even so, the question stands: what do people really think?
A recent study has at least provided the elements of a sample answer. The Ecumenical Committee of the Anglican diocese of Blackburn has recently published "Towards an Understanding of Unity," a study of Anglican-Catholic relationships in the diocese (St. Martin's College, Lancaster, 50p).
A valuable section of this report summarises the findings of a survey of the attitudes of Anglican and Catholic lay people in the area towards the problems of reunion. With the co-operation of the Catholic dioceses, of Salford and Lancaster, 3,000 questionnaires were circulated to churchgoing Anglicans (2,000) and Catholics (1,000), and 1,313 replies were received (854 Anglicans, 459 Catholics).
To try to summarise these findings in a few lines would
only mislead. But a few pointers may be of use. There was a marked resemblance between Anglican and Catholic replies. Well over 80 per cent in either Church thought the question of union important, less than 25 per cent were greatly worried by disunity (and just over 50 per cent admitted to being "moderately worried").
Over 75 per cent thought that it was time for the two Churches to move closer together, but the majority confessed ignorance of the problems and issues involved. While 62 per cent of the Catholics had received instruction on the question of reunion with Anglicans, only 26 per cent of the Anglicans reported receiving corresponding instruction.
Given lists of the obstacles to reunion, and asked to choose the most important, Anglicans chose: (I) Papal authority, (2) the general attitude of Catholics, (3) Catholic attitude to mixed marriages.
Catholics chose (I) the general attitude of Catholics, (2) that of Anglicans, (3) the danger of holding that one view is as good as another.
Asked to select the three most important factors in fostering closer relations, all put "the greater tolerance now present in both Churches" in first place: then Anglicans named (2) permission for Catholics to attend non-Catholic services, and (3) the use of English at Mass. Catholics named (2) the use of English at Mass and (3) Combined services.
Would a similar survey in one or two other parts of the country be of use? It could well have valuable lessons for those concerned with the promotion of Christian Unity. Meanwhile we can all ponder the answer to the question "Do you pray privately for the reunion of the two Churches?" Reply: Regularly: Anglicans 11 per cent, Catholics 15 per cent. Sometimes: Anglicans 44 per cent, Catholics 43 per cent. Not at all: Anglicans 45 per cent, Catholics 42 per cent.