THE draft Code of Practice under Section 5B of the Church of England (Ecumenical Relations) Measure 1988 was approved on Thursday.
Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, explained that the office-holders would have to “have regard to the code”: it was a mandatory guide, not to be ignored. The package of Measure, code of practice, and canon enabled newer and minority churches without a national presence and structure to come into the C of E’s framework for ecumenical hospitality and partnership. The creation of local co-operative schemes allowed the greatest freedom possible for parishes to work together with neighbouring churches.
The recent publication of Walking Together on the Way by ARCIC outlined a model for “receptive ecumenism” which “reminds us that, as in our communion with the saints in heaven, we are no longer strangers and aliens but fellow citizens with the saints.” His hope and prayer was that this package would “bring those words to life”.
The Revd Philip Cooper (Moravian Church) spoke of the framework as a response to fact that the ecumenical landscape had changed immensely in recent times, with more Christian churches engaging ecumenically in “new and ever more diverse ways”. It was an acknowledgement that “a lighter touch and more flexible approach is needed,” and was “very positive development in our ecumenical life together”.
Lucy Docherty (Portsmouth) found in the code of practice “the beating heart of our Christian commitment: our desire to work together so that all may be one”. She hoped that it would remind people of what was already available, like the common baptismal certificate that had enabled all four of her children to belong to both the Roman Catholic Church and the C of E through their baptism. It had enabled her Roman Catholic husband to play a full part in the worshipping life of her Anglican church.
The Revd Professor Paul Fiddes (Baptist Union) received the code with “great enthusiasm”: it was “not just doing ecumenical things, but doing things ecumenically”. Working with the code’s guidelines would “enable us to understand the Church of Christ as one body engaged in God’s mission”. He observed that “an extraordinary amount is possible under the hospitable provisions with imagination and good will. We can live now in an age of considerable visible unity while we work and pray for full unity; we can be that witness to the world for which Jesus prayed.”
Philip French (Rochester) had worshipped for the past 20 years in a local ecumenical partnership with the United Reformed Church and urged the Synod to acknowledge that “we have something big to celebrate.”
OVERSEAS perspectives on evangelism and discipleship came from two bishops of the Anglican Communion who were invited to address the Synod on the Wednesday afternoon.
The Moderator of the Church of North India, the Most Revd Prem Chand Singh, talked about his Church’s work to break down barriers of “caste, creed, class, gender, economic inequality and exploitation”.
The Christian community in India had been under severe persecution in recent years, and the current ruling party, the Hindu nationalist BJP, wanted to make India into a Hindu country, he said. Extremist Hindu groups had attacked churches, particularly during festivals, killed Christians, and destroyed their homes, almost with impunity.
Nevertheless, his Church “thanked God for even this kind of situation”. Its discipleship, therefore, focused on the idea that marginalisation of anyone for any reason was contrary to the gospel. “St Paul reminds us that the entire law is summed up in a single command: love your neighbour as yourself. Even now, we are challenged to rediscover this.”
Christians must demonstrate this in their relations to other faiths, even as they were being persecuted, he said. “We have to humble ourselves and give up our insecure attitude. In this way, we can make our religion really inclusive.”
At its latest synod meeting, his Church had made mission and evangelism a priority, he said, and it had held large festivals of faith, at which tens of thousands had gathered to hear “the word of God”, even in the towns where Christians had been killed in the past.
The Bishop of Kapsabet, in Kenya, the Rt Revd Paul Korir, said: “The Church in Africa is growing and thriving. The Spirit of God is moving, but we acknowledge the source.” The Church of England had come to Africa when it was still a “dark continent” and had planted seeds of which he and his Church were the fruit.
“We come back home to you, because you brought us the gospel. Thank you for sending missionaries. If you had not come, we would be nowhere.”
His Church was committed to being outward-looking, had “left the building”, and was going into the world to make disciples. It was also focusing on being a “sending Church” that intentionally commissioned Christians to go and spread the good news in their own contexts.
The final priority was making it a Church for children: they were never sent away or excluded from services, even if they cried. “We invite children to play the centre role, young as they may be. We want a sense of belonging.”
The Church also had an extensive network of chaplains in schools, as well as its own schools run by the Church. Both the Mothers’ Union and an equivalent new men’s organisation were growing in confidence and numbers. Their members were “young, firebrand, moving forward”, the Bishop said. “The elders are handing over to the coming generation.”
Lay leadership was encouraged, as well as cell groups and family ministry. This would be a springboard for greater engagement in the public square. Finally, the Church was seeking to be present in the lives of Kenyans in all their complexity and brokenness, their fears and aspirations. “What can constitute the good news in our society, where everything sees to be going wrong?” he asked. “How can we advance God’s morality?”
Bishop Singh then briefly returned to the podium to thank God for the Church of England, the ministry, and, in particular, the education system that it established in India.
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