Living in more than one place at once
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UNTIL the late 1960s, it was frequently asserted in Britain that
"the ecumenical movement" was the most important new element in
Christian history. A part to play in its organisation (whether at
Geneva or in London) was a stepping stone in many church careers.
This is no longer the case. The recent WCC Assembly in South Korea
was scarcely noticed, even in church papers.
An element in this decline of British interest is that ecumenism
has been understood as directed to forging organic unity between
Christian denominations. Initially this was seen (at Edinburgh in
1910) in the context of "overseas mission". Keith Clements claims
that this reading of true ecumenism is a mistake. He argues that
the modern ecumenical movement's point of origin was in 1908, when
war-talk was common in Britain and in Germany, and large public
resources were being devoted to bigger battleships.
An Anglo-Canadian Quaker, J. Allen Baker, together with a German
layman, Baron Eduard de Neufville, worked together to organize a
visit of 131 Anglican and Free Church leaders to Germany, and, the
following year, a visit of 109 German church leaders to Britain.
That theme of "peace" (and by 1920 "global" and "shame") was picked
up by Archbishop Soederstrom, George Bell, and others, after the
apocalypse. The thread of reconciliation goes through subsequent
stands of the WCC against apartheid and oppression of the Latin
American poor. Most re-cently, this has extended to reconciling
lifestyles in the West with the sustainability of creation.
Clements is one of the few English now qualified to give an
overview of ecumenism. He is a Baptist minister whose last post was
in Geneva as General Secretary of the Conference of European
Churches. He has mastered thevery large archives of Joe Oldham's
work to publish his biography anda study of the think-tank ("The
Moot") that he convened over the war years.
His conclusion, repeated as chapters focus on successive
episodes after 1908, through the German "Confessing Church",the
Oxford Conference and its decision to set up a World Council, and
the back-ground to the European Churches' Charta
Oecumenica (2001), requires a serious shift in how we
understand the central dynamic of ecumenism. In a life lived today,
all of us "live in more than one place at once".
Canon John Nurser was the founding director of the
ecumenical group Christianity and the Future of Europe