ACC-17: ‘Ecumenical climate is warming up’

02 May 2019

Anglican Archives/Neil Vigers

Canon John Gibaut, director for unity, faith and order at the Anglican Communion Office

Canon John Gibaut, director for unity, faith and order at the Anglican Communion Office

THOSE working for church unity were like climatologists, the outgoing director for unity, faith and order, Canon John Gibaut, told ACC-17 on Wednesday.

Like climatologists, they looked at trends over decades, he said, rather than meteorologists, who looked at the weather next week.

So much had happened in the ecumenical field which was “stunning” and “extraordinary”, he said. “But it happens slowly, which makes it easy to miss.

“We measure the work of Christian unity not in the work of months and years, but in decades. . . It is sobering to recall that it was climatologists who identified the threat of global warming.”

People working in ecumenism were repairing schisms formed centuries ago, as well as new divisions.

The theme of his last address to the ACC before stepping down from his post in the Anglican Communion Office was the road to Emmaus, and the image of walking together.

In the Gospels, he said, the most unlikely people were called into community by Jesus as his disciples. He suggested that St Luke was telling them that, when any disciples gathered together, to walk together, “we stand in an apostolic succession to Cleopas and his companion in our own encounters with the risen Christ.”

To be a Christian always meant to be part of a community, Dr Gibaut said, even a community of two. “In short, one disciple is no disciple. Christian discipleship is always in the plural.”

It was this that made disunity such a scandal, he said. “We need each other, with our differences, different experiences and perspectives, different gifts, and even disagreements, just as we see in the disciples in the New Testament.”

He continued: “The long and tragic history of Christian disunity has been, in effect, the history of the disciples of the one Lord Jesus Christ choosing to walk apart, choosing to walk away from one another.

“The consequences of these divisions for Christian witness have been high and disastrous.”

He looked back to 1918, and the start of the ecumenical movement, as Churches realised that their historic divisions had left them with “no authentic voice to speak into the need for reconciliation in the world”.

It was hard for anyone to remember just how much had changed since then, he said. At the first ACC meeting 48 years ago, there had been no ecumenical guests. Participants from then would be astonished at the amount of work that was now down ecumenically.

Hear more about ACC-17 on the Church Times Podcast

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