I AM writing this in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and wondering how many people have noticed.
Some years ago, there was real excitement and energy about this week; people felt that it mattered, and that union among the Churches might be achieved within a few years. Now, I doubt if anyone feels that, or even has any burning conviction that it ought to be so.
I REMEMBER when I first became aware of the movement for unity. It must have been in 1960, because the Baptist church I then attended was hosting an international gathering to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Edinburgh Missionary Conference, which is regarded as having launched both the modern missionary movement of the European Protestant Churches, and the modern ecumenical movement.
In fact, it was in this context that I first heard the word “ecumenical”, and did not know what it meant. (Several speakers later, I was beginning to get the idea.)
Coals to Newcastle
IT WAS during this gathering that I overheard a well-meaning but patronising middle-aged woman ask a young Lebanese man, “And when did Christianity reach your part of the world?” I curled up with embarrassment. The young man was much more polite than I would have managed to be.
Colours to the mast
NEAR the same time, I was at a unity meeting — not a service — attended by leaders and members of congregations from many different churches. It happened that, on that very day, the news had broken of the death of the RC Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Godfrey. The Bishop of Coventry, Cuthbert Bardsley, paid a polite tribute to him. Unfortunately, he referred to him throughout as Cardinal Griffin, his predecessor in the see.
Also at that meeting, there were speeches on behalf of the main denominations present. The Anglican speaker began: “My Lord Bishop, Reverend Fathers, ladies and gentlemen.”
The Roman Catholic began: “My Lord, Reverend Fathers, ladies and gentlemen.”
The Free Church representative began: “Bishop, Fathers, ladies and gentlemen.”
In this subtle way, they made clear the extent to which the ecumenical ideal had progressed, and the point at which it had stuck.
BUT in those days it was at least progressing, and the feeling now is that it is not.
I suspect that this has a good deal to do with the fact that the divisions between Christians today are less between different Churches than right through each individual Church and family of Churches, as we wrestle in particular with understandings of the position of women and same-sex relationships, which themselves arise from profound disagreements about the interpretation of scripture and the understanding of authority.
The Anglican Communion needs an ecumenical movement of its own.
The Revd Sister Rosemary CHN is a nun at the Convent of the Holy Name in Derby.