CTE Reformation Conference:
Report and Reflection
A Report: Responding to the CTE Reformation Conference Oct 2017
From 16 to 18 October around 100 people gathered at Swanwick for this conference arranged by the National Ecumenical Officers and CTE. It replaced the normal autumn meetings of denominational ecumenical officers and was expanded to welcome anyone with ecumenical experience beyond the local. It was therefore attended by many Denominational Ecumenical Officers as well as by some County Ecumenical Officers.
Participants were from the Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic traditions and from newer churches. Most, but not all, of those attending had a formal ecumenical role in their own tradition. Participants also included representatives of ecumenical groups, notably of Chemin Neuf (www.chemin-neuf.org.uk/en) and the Association of Interchurch Families (www.interfamilies.org.uk) both of whom took part in the panel discussion on reconciliation.
The conference opened with a largely historical talk on ‘Remembering: living with the legacy of the reformations’ by the Revd Professor Mark Chapman. Mark reminded us of the role of myth in all our traditions and the highly contested legacy of the reformation era on all sides using in particular the story of the 19th century decision to erect the Oxford memorial to Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer.
Fr Nicholas King SJ on ‘Repenting: Fragmentation and mission’ gave us a Bible study on the Acts of the Apostles focusing on the Council of Jerusalem in chapter 15. ‘Maybe we can delay the Spirit, but we cannot stop the Spirit’, he said; and ‘expect the unexpected’.
In a third plenary session the Revd Jeremy Worthen (Church of England) spoke on ‘Reforming: a theological idea in a secular age’ quoting extensively from Yves Conger True and False Reform in the Church (1950 and 1968). Towards the end of his talk, Jeremy quoted Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel) as saying that the church lives by receiving and proclaiming the gospel and can have no secure home without venturing out..
The fourth plenary session was a panel discussion on ‘Reconciling: the ministry of Christ' during which participants from the floor as well as the panel considered their role as ministers of reconciliation, In the fifth plenary session Archpriest Andrew Louth FBA spoke on ‘Reflecting on the legacy of the Reformation’. In a densely argued paper he said that the Orthodox often started from a profoundly different world view from that of both Catholic and Protestant Christians and that we have all been and still are, albeit in different ways, influenced by the political world in which we operate.
In the final plenary session Rt Revd Jan McFarlane (Bishop of Repton) spoke on ‘Rejoicing in the patience of God: the joy of the Gospel’. She argued that we see ourselves as David but spend time trying to be Goliath. Prayer is more important than mission strategies, however good. The more formal papers are to be published in the journal One in Christ (www.oneinchrist.org.uk).
Conference worship was brilliantly curated by Teresa Brown from Devine Music (www.devinemusic.org.uk) ably assisted by Jenny Bond of CTE. On the first evening we were invited to repent of our role in division and, after the names of martyrs of the Reformation era had been placed on a cross, offered the opportunity to receive the sign of ashes. This was the first time I have been ashed other than on Ash Wednesday and I found it profoundly moving. For some other participants this was the first time they had sung Martin Luther’s hymn Ein Feste Burg (A safe stronghold).
Later worship looked forward using texts like Bernadette Farrell’s Christ be our Light and and Paul Bateman’s The Kingdom of God is justice and joy (sung to the tune Out Skerries set to these words in Rejoice and Sing). On the second evening David Cornick, CTE General Secretary, preached from John 4, exploring the implications of Jesus’ radical, counter-cultural encounter with the woman at the well and the Bishop of Repton led the closing worship after her talk.
In his summary at the end of the conference, David Cornick reflected that the centrality of prayer and the call to be the ‘David’ church (rather than Goliath) suggested that worship and liturgy were integral parts of mission. As we are caught up in the missio Dei we need to continue the theological conversation between those who work in the academy and those who work in the church. We also need to tend the delicate ecology of the ecumenical space, especially at intermediate level, as well as being aware that things are changing and the Spirit is moving.
Sometimes despite appearances, God is there before us and it is our job to follow. All participants were invited during the final morning to reflect on the lasting fruits of the Conference and on the next steps which we might, as individuals and collectively, take. What follows is one response to from Janet Appleby, an Anglican Ecumenical Officer, to that challenge.
Ecumenical Officer for the Southampton Methodist District
A Reflection: What I take away from the CTE Reformation Conference Oct 2017
The main legacy for me of this wonderful conference is the many stimulating and often profound conversations I had with strangers who rapidly became friends. These new friends were from all parts of England – and indeed some from abroad (Poland and even Australia) as well as covering the full range of Christian traditions both old and new.
After the conference, I reflected on what I had experienced and learnt in the hope of retaining some of the joy and energy of the Holy Spirit which I had experienced in listening to the lectures as well as conversing, discussing and worshipping. In particular there was Jan McFarlane’s ‘So what?’ question and the discussions during the final session on next steps. So here is some of what I hope to carry forward.
I felt challenged in my role as ecumenical officer to do more to encourage local Churches Together Groups to pray together more. Prayer is crucial. It means spending time and listening to God rather than telling God what God already knows. However, prayer is also dangerous. God will challenge us but also inspire us. However, we can let go of our anxiety about decline, and instead trust God and join God in God’s mission.
I also hope to encourage the different denominations and traditions to learn more about each other’s history, culture and gifts. David Cornick’s epigram ‘When we encounter the other we discover more of ourselves’ is especially resonant. We were reminded that God is always beyond our understanding and we need to celebrate our differences within God’s unity and create a generous spirit of openness to each other in God. The Trinity shows us that community, koinonia, is our calling, not individualism. One metaphor we were given is of us all as allotments in God’s garden, rather than as having our own private gardens.
Reconciliation is a journey, a process, and often fragmentary. We must expect to find ‘living with difference’ uncomfortable, and even painful. It requires generous sacrificial love. For example, for the old to listen to the young more. However, if it is of the Holy Spirit then it will also be enriching and will ultimately bring us comfort and a deeper joy.
This journey to unity is also a journey to look outwards ‘to be one that the world may believe’. We must recognise and affirm the gifts and vocations of all whether lay or ordained, and especially in our ‘Monday to Saturday’ lives. We must learn to be ‘contagious Christians’, full of the love and joy of God, so that others will want to find out more.
Other challenges we were given may be even harder to realise. We were asked whether now is the time for a new, more radical, Reformation? That is, one that will bring a true unity of the church which recognises and celebrates our differences. We may recognise the need to pray together more. Can we also worship together?
I also received some more personal challenges during the final session. One was to give more time to personal prayer and listening to God’s call on my life. Another was to do more to engage with a local Anglican priest who does not recognise my orders. When I ventured to do so last Sunday I received an unexpectedly warm welcome from the congregation and felt enriched by the experienced. Daring to reach out to each other, especially when we most fear rejection, is surely when the Holy Spirit is most with us?
Ecumenical Officer for the Newcastle Diocese of the Church of England
Photos courtesy of Chris Dobson, Ecumenical and Global Partnership Officer, Diocese of Bristol