“Thirty years have flown by, at least by my recollections"
On 1 September 2020, Churches Together in England (CTE) celebrates the 30th anniversary of its formation. Here Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of CTE, reflects on the last 30 years…
How well I remember being part of the Catholic delegation at the Swanwick Conference in September 1987. I thank Dr Goodliff for his account of aspects of that meeting. I recall that on the evening before Cardinal Hume spoke, in a definitive way, he gathered all the Catholic delegates together and pondered with us on what he was going to say.
Before that Swanwick meeting, there had been three national meetings, in England, Scotland and Wales, which showed how different the situations were in each of the three nations. I think that helped to clarify the intention that our ecumenical journey needed expression, ‘instruments’, at a national level as well as at a British and Irish level.
The journey was one of departing from the steadfast work of the British Council of Churches, to a pattern of work which emphasised not so much the collective voice as a dedication to enable the churches themselves to work together, respecting difference as well as seeking commonality.
As Paul says in his reflection, one of the great features of the last thirty years is the rapid expansion of Christian communities and traditions within our country, now reflected in the membership of CTE. I rejoice in this broadening of cooperation. Nowhere has it been more evident in the splendid leadership given to us all in CTE by the Black-led churches in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd. That is such an important moment and one in which the ‘historic’ churches in this country owe much to our fellow Christians.
The challenges facing our country at this critical time have, I believe, deepened the practical ecumenical cooperation which exists is so many places. Responses to need, to isolation, to hunger quickly bring together neighbouring churches in common effort. There is nothing remarkable about this anymore. It is simply a fact of life and a strong witness to the fruitfulness of faith in Jesus Christ.
In 1987 one of the principal points made by Cardinal Hume was that we would never ‘negotiate’ our way to deeper and fully Christian unity. He was convinced that such unity would come only as a gift and it would come when we were on our knees in prayer. This emphasis on the utter centrality of Jesus as our living Lord and Master is as relevant today as it was thirty years ago. In fact it is more relevant in an age which is more reluctant to step beyond the immediate and the pragmatic. But Jesus is the one thing we have to offer to our country and we do that best together.
I thank God for the life of faith in Jesus, the Eternal Word made flesh, and for the richness of witness given to his Name. I pray that we will continue to live this faith together and be courageous in exploring the secure truths which flow from that faith and which alone give life its firm and true foundations.
Read more on the 30th anniversary of Churches Together in England