This Reflection is taken from a report by David Cornick of the international conference on Receptive Ecumenism
, June 2014.
As we worshipped daily in the Egan Chapel during the Third International Receptive Ecumenism conference at the Jesuit's Fairfield University in Connecticut we couldn't escape the influence and inspiration of St Ignatius. The chapel windows traced his spiritual journey, and outside is a remarkable sculpture of the man, by two young sculptors from New York, Joel Benefiel and Jeremy Leichman. The title of the piece is 'examen', the daily prayer exercise that Ignatius taught, an examination of life to discover the presence of God in its warp and weft. Ignatius, as it were looks long and hard at himself.
We were there to look long and hard at our life as churches at this particular phase in history. As Professor Paul Murray suggested in his opening words, we have reached a stage in our ecumenical journey where all the 'soft wood' of theological misunderstanding and misperception has been cleared away, leaving the 'hard wood' of long term differences like the place of women in ministry and the episcopate, and understandings of human sexuality. Those are issues that will not be solved overnight, so we need a way of ecumenical living which respects God's faithfulness. We have not journeyed thus far in vain. God will give us sustenance for the remainder of the way. We are all on pilgrimage together, growing more completely into Christ. Because we are together, and because God is with each of us, we can discover the gifts of God in each other. Receptive ecumenism asks us to have the courage to share our woundedness with each other, and to have the humility to receive healing balm from the gifts that God has given to our partners. It is about asking, 'What do I need to receive?' rather than 'What can I give that they so obviously need?'.
Receptive ecumenism is now a strapping teenager, ready to leave its university home and take on a mature life in the churches. John Gibaut of the World Council of Churches introduced us early on, with tongue only just slightly in cheek, to the 'NATO' ecumenism of the northern world where theological reception is well practised, and contrasted that with the experience of the global south. Leaving home, it seems, means taking your context seriously. This was to be a significant theme.
And so it was. In Canada the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission (ARC) has flourished through warm friendships between church leaders and the production of guidelines on the transfer of clergy between the two churches as well as on interchurch marriage. When asked to reflect on why that should be so Bishops Don Boden and Linda Nicholls noted that Catholics and Anglicans didn't have a history of division, so their experience was profoundly difference to that of (say) Lutherans and Catholics in Germany. In South Australia, Receptive Ecumenism has been a bracing tonic which has completely re-invigorated the life of churches over the past five years. They rejoice in what they understand to be a movement of the Spirit.
Remaining in 'NATO' for the moment, the most far-reaching academic research which has been undertaken was by the Durham group with nine participating denominations in the North East of England. That too is a very specific context - post-industrial, economically deprived, far less ethnically mixed than other areas of England. The five year project (which is continuing) seeks to help churches churches reflect on three areas of their life - governance and finance, learning and formation, and ministry and leadership - and then to ask whether the giftedness of other churches has something to offer their areas of weakness and woundedness. Examples from the project included the suggestions that Catholicism could benefit from the experience of lay participation at Synodical level of the Methodist and United Reformed Churches, and that the United Reformed Church might find value in the diaconal ministry as experience in the Catholic, Methodist and Anglican churches as it develops new patterns of local church life in the North East. As the work continues, the possibilities of developing resources for local churches expands, and CTE will be working on that.