Friday, 17 December 2010

MEN Christmas Quiz 2010

Christmas PuzzleImage by urtica via Flickr
Methodist Ecumenical News is taking a break over the Christmas and New Year holidays and will return on Wednesday 5 January 2011.  Do feel free to leave comments over the Christmas period.

In the meantime, here is a Christmas quiz, just in case you have nothing better to do.  If anyone sends in their answers before Tuesday 4 January 2011 and they are all correct, they will be mentioned in the Methodist Ecumenical News roll of honour.  Answers most likely on Thursday 6 January 2011.
  1. When is a LEP not a LEP?
  2. Who might be wearing their own ordinary hat from 2011?
  3. Who is the odd one out? (Give your reason.)  Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Archbishop Rowan Williams, Bishop Nathan Hovhanissian and Commissioner Elizabeth Matear
  4. What do the following have in common?  Be specific for extra points ...  Revd Martin Atkins, Revd Roberta Rominga, Revd David Cornick, Revd Olav Fyske Tveit, Brother Stephen Smyth
  5. Join the dots ...
          Edinburgh           Cape Town
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Thursday, 16 December 2010

Thrive West Midlands

Victoria Square, Birmingham at dusk, showing t...Image via Wikipedia
Here is a story from the December 2010 edition of CTE News about an innovative local initiative.

Thrive West Midlands is a new, ecumenical, initiative from the Church Urban Fund in the West Midlands that will broaden support available to churches who work, or aspire to work, in tackling issues of poverty and proclaim good news practically in areas of deprivation.

The team at Thrive West Midlands know from experience that there is a great deal of passion, commitment and vision in many of the region’s churches and many of these would benefit from well directed and tailored support in order to realise their dreams for their work with their local communities. There are even more churches who have the desire to work with their local community to address their many needs but who need guidance in how and where to start. Thrive West Midlands is an inter-denominational, West Midlands wide initiative that seeks to equip Christians inspired to spread Jesus’ good news in action as well as word.  Thrive West Midlands is still in a development stage, guided and overseen by an impressive steering group of experts and practitioners including representatives from Birmingham Churches Together, Queens Foundation, Worth Unltd, Anthony Collins Solicitors, alongside the Church Urban Fund and the Anglican Diocese. The Anglican Diocese of Birmingham is a key partner and is extending the work of its Community Regeneration Department through Thrive West Midlands, particularly around the area of developing collaborative activities with other Christian organisations.

Since June the team at Thrive West Midlands have met with dozens of existing projects and church workers across the region to establish what resources and support might be required, and have been developing pieces of work that directly support grass roots projects and key events are being held for churches, volunteers, clergy and workers to access valuable tools and knowledge as well as engage with questions over Thrive’s priorities for the next year.

One example of the kind of support Thrive is able to deliver is a piece of work carried out to support church projects that receive money from Birmingham City Council to deliver services to older adults. The application process to renew this funding took place again recently, a process that had been quite difficult for some projects first time around, but has become more stringent due to huge budget cuts. Thrive West Midlands has been able to bring projects together with the city council in a bid to curtail any worries and support projects through the application process.

Thrive West Midlands aims to deliver local solutions to local problems and has three areas of work:
  • Resourcing the Sector by providing targeted support and signposting churches and projects to a range of high quality resources and services that our partners provide.
  • Creating opportunity for churches wishing to explore how they can effectively serve their local community through both theological reflection around mission and the practical support required for a church working out what a role serving the community might look like.
  • Spreading Influence by enabling churches who are working to address issues of poverty to speak collectively into policy development and strategic decision making at local, regional and national level.
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Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Christian Responses to Big Society

THE BIG SOCIETY lettersImage by Leo Reynolds via Flickr
The following is taken from the December 2010 edition of CTE News.  I have tried to include as many links to organisations and campaigns as I can.

A group of Christians in public life, including ministers and theologians, has launched a new network to oppose government cuts in public spending and welfare provision. They criticise the Coalition's 'Big Society' rhetoric as vacuous and misleading. The Common Wealth initiative says targeting the poorest in society is un-Christian and warns against churches being co-opted into plugging damaging gaps in social provision. The group's founding document - endorsed by a professor of theology, Anglican and Methodist clergy, a Cambridge academic and a religious think-tank, among others - provides a radical theological critique of government policies and the social and economic order they seek to maintain.

Steven Shakespeare, an Anglican priest and lecturer in philosophy at Liverpool Hope University, explained: "This is not the time for the churches to be cosying up to government. That would be a failure of nerve, imagination and faith. We need to be saying loud and clear that we are part of the resistance. We don't accept that the market is God."

The group says: "Christians in Britain today are called to take a stand. Faced with the biggest cuts to public spending for over a generation, it is not enough to retreat into the private ghetto of religious consolation. We are convinced that the actions of the current government are an unjustified attack on the poor. The rhetoric of necessary austerity and virtuous belt-tightening conceals a grim reality: the victimization of people at the margins of society and the corrosion of community. Meanwhile, the false worship of markets continues unchecked and the immorality of the growing gap between rich and poor goes unquestioned. We call on the churches to resist the cuts and stand in solidarity with those targeted," it declares. "We urge them to join the forces fighting back against a distorted ideology... [and] we commit ourselves not to give in to despair, fear and fatalism. Another world is possible, the world announced by Jesus in his teachings, embodied in the love he took to the cross, and alive in the Spirit of his risen strength."

Common Wealth says that churches should not be deceived by claims that the government is sympathetic to Christian ideals. The network describes David Cameron's 'Big Society', in which the state passes the buck to individuals, entrepreneurs, charities, and faith groups, as "a Big Lie". The 'Big Society' masks injustice, suffocating dissent with phoney "we're all in it together" sound bites, Common Wealth says. "It is divide-and-rule dressed up as high-minded community spirit."

The Common Wealth statement recognizes that, on the ground, churches and ministers are faced with difficult choices about working within the current system to get necessary resources to the most vulnerable. But it says that pragmatic decisions "should always be guided - and often limited - by a fundamental critique of the present order" based on a vision of a different society "revealed in the Church's sacraments and other symbols of transformation." Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, said: "The idea that there is no alternative to cuts that hit the poorest is being seen by Christians as economically false, morally wrong and spiritually bankrupt."

Regional representatives from the West Midlands Region Churches Forum met on 2 November to consider the implications of the October Government Spending Review and the Big Society agenda for Christian mission in the region. They acknowledged two responses to the recent Government initiatives:
  1. to develop a prophetic critique of the Big Society and the current economic climate
  2. to recognise the opportunities for Christian mission afforded by the Government’s focus on local communities.
Whilst acknowledging the need to develop a prophetic critique, the Forum concentrated reflection on the opportunities for Christian mission offered by the renewed emphasis on the concept of empowering local communities. Their discussion was not an uncritical endorsement of ‘Big Society’ policy, but rather a recognition that the concept of empowering local communities has for many decades informed Christian action. One representative felt that a Christian perspective should be more about ‘reclaiming’ community than ‘growing’ it as described within the Big Society.

There was a general consensus about a need to guard against responding to ‘Big Society’ as the latest fad from ‘above’, especially in relation to any injustices that require people of faith to speak out. It was considered important that we ensure there are people taking responsibility to seek out those who fall through the social support net. This highlighted the importance of organisations such as Church Action on Poverty.

Minority Ethnic Christian Affairs (MECA) hosted the inaugural meeting of the ‘Big Society Forum’ on Thursday 9 December at the London offices of Churches Together in England. The Forum was attended by representatives of Black-led Churches and Minority Ethnic communities in England. Guest speaker was Mr Rudi Page, CEO, of international development agency RAFFA and member of the Cinnamon Network, a group of executives from Christian organisations involved in community services development and delivery. The Cinnamon Network recently carried out research that showed that Churches are delivering an estimated 72 million hours of volunteering for social initiatives at over £250 millions of direct funding per annum.

MECA Executive Secretary, Bishop Dr Joe Aldred said, ‘Faith communities in general and Black-led churches and Minority Ethnic Christian communities in particular do ‘Big Society’ as a way of life. Social responsibility has long been a core Christian virtue. And it is vitally important that as the government encourages local communities to take on more responsibility that minority communities are able to critique the new proposals and collaborate where possible, but always in the interest of the poor, disadvantaged, marginalised and what the bible calls ‘the least of these’”.

The Big Society Forum will meet three times during 2011 in order to raise awareness and promote understanding about the government’s flagship Big Society programme with a particular remit to encourage approaches that reduce inequalities in public and community services. Senior political, civic and religious leaders will be invited to hear from a diverse range of independent and national Black-led Churches and Minority Ethnic Christian communities.

Rudi Page, said "The Big Society Forum has been invited to contribute to a Community Leadership & Empowerment survey that will highlight and measure the impact of Black-Led Churches which through social action are inspiring peaceful, caring and enterprising neighbourhoods".

The CTBI website features further responses from Church leaders, including the Methodist President of Conference.
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Tuesday, 14 December 2010

How to Make it Work

Today, an exploration of another page on the Methodist Church website.  How to Make it Work covers a range of information supporting Methodist United Reformed Church collaboration.

How to Make it Work was first published some years ago as a folder containing a number of leaflets. Recently, the leaflets have been reviewed and the material has been republished as 'a website within a website'.  The idea is that local Methodist and URC websites can include a link.

It is easy to assume the two traditions are similar.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Granted there is a lot of common ground between the them but their ecclesiologies are quite different.  It is easy to make mistakes about the ways in which decisions are made, particularly in joint congregations.

How to Make it Work is divided into five sections and they are available as word or pdf files. 
  1. The first paper, called How to Make it Work, is an introduction to such matters as membership, ministry of word and sacrament, other ministries such as the Methodist diaconal order or lay workers, the worship of the local church, property, Sharing Agreements, finance and a list of other published resources.  It is in the nature of these publications that they can quickly become out of date and the section on constitutions has been superseded.  When it is updated it will have a date later then this blog post.
  2. A service for the induction and welcome of new ministers.
  3. The checklist for church stewards and elders, compares the two roles and their duties.
  4. Orientation for incoming ministers to Methodist and United Reformed LEPs is a paper that suggests an induction process for new ministers.  This was an addition to the original printed version and provides a much needed approach to clarifying the differences between the two traditions.
  5. Baptists in LEPs with the Methodist Church and United Reformed Church.
There is always a need for new material as new issues come to light.  The Methodist URC Liaison Committee works on updates and would welcome any suggestions, which can be made as comment to this post.
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Monday, 13 December 2010

Catholic Social Teaching

I recently posted about the Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) and their blog Praxis.  The Roman Catholic Church in England have just launched a new website, Catholic Social Teaching.  Where JPIT expresses its ecumenical commitment through joint working between the Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Churches, as well as its willingness to work as partners with other churches, Catholic Social Teaching expresses its commitment to unity in this way:

Is this just for Catholics?  Not at all! All of the recent encyclicals are addressed to “all of goodwill”. As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says: “the teachings are also for the brethren of other churches and ecclesial communities, to the followers of other religions, as well as to people of goodwill who are committed to serving the common good.” The teachings do though have special significance for Catholics for whom the pursuit of social justice has been stipulated as a faith commitment.

I would hope they will add more links to the work of other denominations, eg JPIT, and ecumenical organisations, eg Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.

With that reservation I have to say the site is excellent, covering six themes and plenty of resources and suggestions for action.  One particular strength is its section on Principles, which offers a detailed history of Catholic Social Teaching and reviews relevant documents.  Here's an excerpt from their Introduction and Principles:

What is Catholic Social Teaching? (CST)

  • authoritative Church teaching on social, political and economic issues
  • informed by Gospel values and the lived experience of Christian reflection
  • analysing that experience from different historical, political and social contexts
  • providing principles for reflection, criteria for judgment and guidelines for action
  • thus enabling us in our struggle to live our faith in justice and peace
CST is not
  • a ‘third way’ between liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism… rather it constitutes a category of its own. (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, paragraph 41).
  • an ideology, but rather the result of a careful reflection on the complex realities of human existence, in society and in the international order, in the light of faith and the Church’s tradition… It therefore belongs to the field, not of ideology, but of moral theology. (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, paragraph 41).
  • a model: the Church has no models to present; models that are real and effective can only arise within the framework of different historical situations, through the efforts of all those who responsibly confront concrete problems in their social, political and cultural aspects, as these interact with each other. (Centesimus Annus, pargraph 43).
Ekklesia have posted a review of this site and its worth a look if you are interested.  Here's an excerpt:

CST has been called the Catholic Church's "big secret", amounting to a massive and historic web of ethical and theological thought on social practice.

Recently, controversial Church teaching on contraception and human sexuality, questioned or rejected by many inside and outside the institution, has come across in the media as the main preoccupation of Catholic thinkers, along with hardline stances on abortion and other bioethical concerns.

But commentators and academics rightly point out that this is a very one-sided view of what the Catholic tradition of social thought, rooted in enquiring faith, has to offer.

In recent years, a strongly critical stance towards free market capitalism, militarism and environmental degradation has emerged from moral theologians and the Church's official teaching position, for example.
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Friday, 10 December 2010

Book Review: Common Prayer

This Tuesday evening I attended the last of 150 parties held worldwide to mark the publishing of 'Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals'.  There were two parties in England, in Birmingham and Sheffield, and two in Scotland.

Common Prayer has been published through the New Monasticism movement in the United States.  For those of us who have been following 'The Big Silence' on the BBC, where Father Christopher Jamieson of Worth Abbey introduced five people to an eight day retreat, the demand for monastic spirituality in everyday life will be familiar.

So, does Common Prayer contribute to meeting this demand?  It is difficult to offer a categorical answer at this stage because I've held it in my hands, at the time of writing, for less than 24 hours but I think it is certainly to be welcomed as an interesting experiment .

Common Prayer comprises liturgies for small groups.  It's not meant specifically for personal devotion or for use in large congregations.  It is for small groups meeting all over the world.  The introduction claims there are 38 000 denominations in the world and the hope is these prayers will be said in the knowledge someone will be praying the same prayers at the same time elsewhere in the world.  This is not to say this book is not suitable for use by the individual alone and indeed, if it is being prayed all the time, there is a sense in which the solitary is not alone.

It is a little unfortunate this book is called 'Common Prayer' because in England, there is the possibility of confusion with the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer.  It is likely to be less confusing in other parts of the world.  It would be a pity if this proved to be a problem because this new book offers a radical take on liturgy.  Of course, there are various interpretations of what is meant by radical Christianity but at first reading it seems to feature a good deal of challenging material, especially in its commitment to the Christian faith as an alternative to contemporary consumer society.

The book is divided into 5 sections.  By far the largest is the section for morning prayer.  There are also midday and evening prayers.  The remainder is prayers for special occasions and fifty worship songs.  There is a website which it seems will eventually have additional material on it although at present, it seems to be restricted to what's in the book.  This is no bad thing because if you're interested, you can sample what's on the site before committing to a purchase.

The morning prayers cover about 450 pages, with a liturgy for each day of the year (with an additonal section for Holy Week).  The advantage of this is it means there is no need to construct each day's liturgy with several bookmarks.  It is based on the three year lectionary and I suspect, after it has been used a couple of times, users may find it less flexible than the tradition 3 or 5 year cycle.  One attractive innovation is the marking of saints days and inclusion in the liturgies of accounts of the lives of the saints.  The saints are not restricted to those recognised by those traditions who formally recognise Saints with a capital 'S'.  Throughout, the liturgies draw on both contemporary and traditional material.

There's only one way to fully evaluate a book such as this one and that is to try it out and so various groups to which I belong can expect a dose of common prayer over the next few months (or longer if it proves popular).   

Ultimately, this is a collection put together by a community of communities of radicals and so has all the advantages and disadvantages of a liturgy that has not been put together to appeal to the widest range of theologies by a committee that applies academic rigour.  It is a living text at least for the moment and might provide inspiration if you are disposed to a radical approach to the faith in solidarity with the global church.
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Thursday, 9 December 2010

China Christian Council visits WCC

Chinese New HymnalImage via Wikipedia
It is easy to assume Chinese Christians are cut off from the rest of the world.  For example, it is true they were unable to visit the Global Christian Forum in 2007.  However, they have firm links with the World Council of Churches (WCC) and have been members since 1991.

On Monday, a seven member delegation from the China Christian Council (CCC) visited the WCC.  This was the fourth such meeting since the CCC was founded in 1980.  Details of the meeting can be found on the WCC website.  Here is a brief summary of the topics covered.

While analyzing religious policies and church-state relations, the delegation expressed the common opinion that "this is a golden era for the development of religions in China". The church in China is engaged in various means of promoting a "harmonious society" in China.  The Rev. Kan Baoping explained that religious communities in general and the Protestant church in particular have experienced rapid growth in China over the last 30 years. He said that having moved beyond denominational divisions was one reason for the church's vitality, partly because Chinese culture puts more emphasis on commonalities than on differences.

Rev. Zhang Shuilian, vice-chairperson of the Hubei Provincial Committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant church, said that Christians generally had a good image in today's China. This is due to their response to societal needs, for example by collecting donations for the victims of the 2008 earthquake in China's Sichuan province, she added.  Zhang said that urban churches often had special programmes to welcome migrant workers, while in rural areas church life was important to fill the gap experienced by the elderly and children who were left behind as other family members went to seek employment in the cities.  Encouraging stability in family life, she continued, is one way in which Christianity and other religions cooperate in the government’s policy aimed at maintaining a "harmonious society". Robust interfaith relations also support this goal.
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Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity

Even the Dowd vehicle provokesImage via Wikipedia
At first glance evolution, and indeed wider scientific issues, have little to do with ecumenism.  Possibly this is a specialist area but it is not entirely irrelevant and for some of us endlessly fascinating.

As I see it there are at least two reasons why ecumenists need to take evolution seriously:
  1. Our understanding of evolution from a theological perspective is something most properly done ecumenically.  As always, the aim is not to find a single theological formula but as each tradition works on its own approach, it can be stimulated by and perhaps accountable to the others.
  2. Some approaches to evolution are divisive.  Those who have a particular biblical interpretation which tells them the earth is only a few thousand years old, for example, sometimes split themselves off from other Christians who do not believe this.  The radical atheists don't help.  This problem is theological not scientific.
If you are interested in evolution and the Christian faith, you might be interested in The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity.  If you follow the link you will find this is a project initiated by an American Pentecostal Pastor, Revd Michael Dowd

Over Advent and Christmas there will be 30 talks which can be downloaded from the site.  Reference to the schedule will show you this is an ambitious programme.  After 6 January there will be a series of dialogues.

There is also a blog, which means there is an opportunity to respond to the issues raised.  You can register on the site and receive email alerts as the talks appear, although I'm not convinced this always works!

This is a valuable resource whatever your views about evolution and worth following while it is available.
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Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Migrant Churches Challenge Old Understanding of Mission

Poster about migrant rights in EuropeImage via Wikipedia
Focus today on the World Council of Churches' (WCC) work on migration and social justice.  They say, 'While migration has always been a fact of life, it raises new economic, political, cultural and ecclesial concerns in today's globalized world. New forms of migration, including trafficking and development-induced displacement, threaten the human dignity of millions of people. Xenophobia is increasing.  Migration in a globalized world raises questions about inter-faith relations, identity, justice, racism, advocacy and diakonia.'

On 25 November 2010, the WCC organised, with the Netherlands Mission Council, an international consultation on the mission and ecclesiology of migrant churches
Migration poses serious challenges to the churches’ self-understanding and calls for a reassessment of how migrant Christians and their churches relate to established local churches in terms of mission, witness, hospitality and mutual accountability. Migration presents unique challenges for the ecumenical journey towards the unity of the church, while at the same time reflecting a wondrously rich diversity within the "body of Christ" (the universal church or the community of Christian believers) that goes beyond denominationalism, said John Gibaut, director of the WCC’s Commission on Faith and Order.
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Monday, 6 December 2010

WCC General Secretary meets the Pope

Olav Tveit Fykse (left), Secretary General of the
World Council of Churches
meets Pope Benedict XVI. in the Vatican.
Photo: epd-bild / L'Osservatore Romano
Slogging through the snow last week might have put some readers in mind of the ecumenical winter.  This has come about in Britain as ecumenists look back to the late nineteen eighties and feel relationships are chillier today than they were.  It seems there is a similar feeling across Europe.

The Norwegians have a saying, '"In Norway there is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing".  The new General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Olav Fykse Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran pastor, conveyed his view of ecumenical winter at a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday 4 December 2010, with a gift of Norwegian gloves.  These were presented to the Pope in 'an inlaid wooden box from Syria as a reminder of deep concern for and solidarity with the people and Christian communities of the Middle East. Inside the box were some more personal gifts, the gloves with a book of poetry by Olav H. Hauge which contains in Norwegian and English one of Tveit's favourite poems by Hauge "The Dream we Carry".'

The blog post, Holding hands in a warm grasp whatever the weather, continues by explaining, 'Since coming into office at the WCC Tveit has tried to rehabilitate the meaning of winter, as a time for reflection and preparation. Communicators sometimes find this a bit difficult to deal with as there is also much talk of ecumenical winter. Tveit's clear message with the gloves was that however cold the actual or ecumenical weather there are always ways in which we can reach out to each other, support one another and walk hand in hand to carry forwards the work of unity and being one together.'

At a Radio Vatican interview, Tveit explained his view of the ecumenical winter further, "I want to use an image: one says that we may now have an ecumenical winter. And as a Norwegian I ask back: what's so terrible in the winter? We know that winter can be beautiful, but also that winter is only a four different seasons. In the winter we have a time to think, to reflect on what we have been through and what we can expect from the future and prepare well. So I think that we do not focus so much on the needs, which is not as good as it was, but what new possibilities can open new doors that we do. We see, for example the new year with the Pentecostal churches and the evangelical churches now an openness to ecumenical work is growing. We also see that the younger generation has a more natural access to the ecumenical process. You do not understand why we can no longer be one, why can not we work together. Therefore I have hope. This is part of the winter. You look toward spring and summer and I know that they come from. "  (Translated from Italian.)

The meeting was a one to one conversation, with no other staff present.  "... we talked about our common task. We have quite a lot of talk about the importance of the ecumenical task, even if common challenges here and see if we see any indications that the ecumenical awareness is perhaps not as strong as it was. I have as a representative of the Ecumenical Council stressed quite strongly that we are not a western Protestant organization, but a global ecumenical fellowship of churches. And so we also have the privilege of the diversity of these churches to bring together and that we in this Commission, both theologically and cooperate in the mission very closely with the Catholic Church. But also that we do in many countries in very local contexts across a large and important collaboration between our Churches and the Roman Catholic Church."

On the situation of Christians in the Middle East, Tveit said, "... we have emphasized very strongly the importance of this situation in the Middle East as a joint responsibility and a duty for us. How can we strengthen the churches there, how we can encourage the dialogue we can work together inter-religious, so we strengthen a higher level of confidence and a new will to find solutions.   ... We talked about how his (the Pope's) trip to the Holy Land in 2008 and the Synod this year, were very important and that the message of the Synod was very important: there must be a new way in which the rights and be peace movement, which are used by both sides taken seriously. You have to show a new willingness to find solutions."
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Friday, 3 December 2010

ECLOF: Ecumenical Microfinance for Human Development

Some time ago, I posted about the World Council of Churches Oikocredit microfinance programme.  It is good to see there is another microfinance programme supported by the churches.  ECLOF is one of those organisations whose name has gone out of date, so these days it stands for ecumenical microfinance for human development.  Here are some excerpts from its website:

ECLOF provides credit and other services to the poor and the excluded across the world.  It is a non-profit ecumenical microfinance organisation focused on supporting human development and building sustainable communities.  Aiming to strengthen small and social income-generating enterprises, ECLOF offers fair terms of credit through supportive local networks. ECLOF also helps build essential community infrastructure in developing countries.  Founded in 1946, ECLOF now works through National ECLOFs in more than thirty countries.  ECLOF has over 200,000 active clients with an outstanding loan portfolio of over US$22 million.

ECLOF's origins are interesting:
Following World War II, ECLOF International (the Ecumenical Church Loan Fund as it was then known) was formed to provide credit to help rebuild churches.  ECLOF later set up National ECLOFs around the world to grant loans for small-scale income generating projects in the "Third World" or "the South".  Today, ECLOF's major activity is lending to small and social businesses in the Africa, EurAsia/Pacific, Latin America/Caribbean regions, as well as the building of community infrastructure such as schools, clinics and churches.
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Thursday, 2 December 2010

Budapest Call for Climate Justice

Budapest castle by night.Image via Wikipedia
Delegates of churches from 32 European countries, with participants from churches from all over the world, met in Budapest from 8 – 12 November 2010 for the consultation “Poverty, Wealth and Ecology in Europe”.

The consultation was part of a broad ecumenical process initiated by the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre in 2006.  It was organised jointly by the Conference of European Churches and the World Council of Churches.

In a preamble to their statement, the report makes the following points about the experience of the consultation:
  • In visiting local communities, we have been faced with the impacts of the economic crisis in Hungary.
  • We have discussed widespread poverty in the rich continent of Europe, worsened by the present financial collapse.
  • We are concerned by growing injustice, social polarization and sharpening regional disparities of Europe.
  • We note the broad social and economic gap between old and new member states of the European Union.
  • We recognize that great sections of Eastern Europe and many in the Western parts in the present situation are confronted with the suffering of people living under abject poverty, and that this is therefore a priority of the churches concerned.
  • We acknowledge that we are part of societies which are obsessed by the ideology of growth and consumerism.
  • We demand that people should be in the centre of economic policies.
  • We have criticized the primacy of economy over people and creation as a whole.
  • We as the people of God are called to participate in the work of God in this world, extending God’s love and care to all human and non-human members of the ‘community of creation’.
  • We recognize that unsustainable methods of wealth creation and the adherence to unlimited growth impoverish communities and harm creation as a whole.
  • In the light of these insights, which we identify as signs of a profound spiritual crisis, we, the delegates of European churches released the Budapest Call for Climate Justice – addressing poverty, wealth and ecology.
This is followed by their Call for Climate Justice.  They argue the great challenge of climate change calls for a great transition and that God's promises encourage the churches to make a start.

Ekklesia have posted a useful summary of the background to the consultation, wherein they quote  Dr Rogate Mshana, director of the WCC programme on Justice, Peace and Creation, who says: "The meeting in Budapest showed the importance of international ecumenical cooperation on the issues of poverty eradication and care for creation.  Christians have an important message for today's world: we are all responsible to advocate and work for systems that eradicate poverty and must not let our lives be defined by systems of greed.  The churches in the different countries and regions can make this message heard in different places and can hold each other accountable."
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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Churches Tell World Leaders to Create Low Carbon Economies

2009 United Nations Climate Change ConferenceImage via Wikipedia
The Joint Public Issues Team released the following on 26 November 2010:

Cancun Conference – 29 November to 10 December

Churches are urging political leaders to lay out plans for low carbon economies at the Cancun follow-up to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.

The Methodist Church, The United Reformed Church and The Baptist Union of Great Britain have stressed the importance of new sources of finance in closing the global climate investment gap. They have called on the Cancun Conference in Mexico to support duties on aviation and shipping and to allocate revenue from carbon allowance auctions to an international climate finance depository. An international bank levy is also among the measures recommended to raise the $100 billion a year needed to tackle climate change.

Steve Hucklesby, Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church, said: “The Copenhagen Conference established that developing countries will need $100 billion dollars each year to help develop low carbon economies. This is a huge challenge but it is achievable. We need sources of grant finance which are predictable and sustainable. We can’t rely on loans when so many countries are already struggling with debt. At Cancun we must start to lay down the financial architecture to support that goal.”

Climate finance will also help countries adapt to the impact of climate change. Cyclone shelters, rising tube wells, floating gardens, raising and strengthening homes are among the climate adaptation measures being used in Bangladesh to cope with rising sea levels, melting Himalayan glaciers and increasingly powerful cyclones.

Commenting on the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Summit to agree globally binding emission targets, Frank Kantor, Secretary for Church and Society of the United Reformed Church, said: “Europe has a chance to rebuild trust with poorer countries at Cancun but this will require EU countries to deliver on their three year pledge of €7.2 billion fast-start finance to help developing countries cut emissions and adapt to climate change between 2010 and 2012.

“The EU has a unique opportunity to gain significant investment in renewable energy technologies by upping its carbon reduction target from 20 to 30 per cent by 2020. According to a new study compiled by think-tank e3g, a fall in carbon prices would reduce investment incentive in renewable energy projects. As Churches we urge EU leaders present at Cancun to increase the EU carbon reduction targets, and thereby send out a clear message to other developed countries that raising carbon reduction targets to more realistic levels will contain the rise on global temperatures to less than two degrees.”

Revd Graham Sparkes, Head of Faith and Unity at the Baptist Union of Great Britain, said: “Developed countries have to recognise their role as historical polluters. They have to bear the burden and cost of building a clean-energy future.”
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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

BBC 1 Nativity This Christmas

Churches Together in England carries a review of the upcoming BBC 1 series 'The Nativity'. It's serialised over the four days up to Christmas Eve (so actually it's in Advent, not Christmas - but never mind that) and the review suggests it's not to be missed.

Tony Jordan (creator of Life on Mars and writer of Eastenders) appears to be the author. He said: ‘I’ve always had a faith. I’m not a God-botherer … But I do believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. I do believe he came here to take away our sins. I absolutely believe that. But there’s loads of little bits around it that bug me. So what I’ve done with the story of the nativity is written a version that I can believe. ‘And I believe that the people who watch it who aren’t already sold, who would ridicule another version with square beards, [will find that] I’ve made it accessible. So they can watch it and see it’s truthful, and say, “You know what! That’s really cool. I never realised it could be like that. I thought it was all beyond me.”

Peter Graystone, the reviewer writes, 'It is not just moving, it is funny (very), believable (totally), sexy (yes!), tense and profoundly full of the grace of God. And the awe of God too'.  Sounds like it might be worth a  try ...

The Nativity has a website provided by the Church and Media network for more information.  Click on one of the pictures and you'll get a menu.

Related articles
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Monday, 29 November 2010

The Way to the Global Christian Forum

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum...Image via Wikipedia
One of the realities many ecumenists encounter, locally through to international, is the separation of Pentecostal and Evangelical churches from the mainstream ecumenical movement.  This has been addressed internationally through the Global Christian Forum in recent years. 

I've found a blog post, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Global Christian Forum, which summarises the origins of this split and the story of how the Global Christian Forum was founded.

Here's a an excerpt from the account of how the split was formed:

One con­cern Evan­gel­i­cals and Pen­te­costals have often had is the loss of the mis­sion­ary spirit among ecumenically-minded Christians—a ter­ri­ble irony, con­sid­er­ing that ecu­menism was born at the Edin­burgh Mis­sion­ary Con­fer­ence in 1910. The Inter­na­tional Mis­sion­ary Coun­cil that was formed as a result of the Edin­burgh con­fer­ence even­tu­ally joined the World Coun­cil of Churches in 1961; many Evan­gel­i­cals left in protest. 1974 saw the for­ma­tion of the Lau­sanne Com­mit­tee for World Evan­ge­liza­tion, fol­low­ing a Con­gress in the same place and year, at the ini­tia­tive of the Amer­i­can evan­ge­list Billy Gra­ham. There 2500 Evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers from 150 coun­tries recom­mit­ted them­selves to world evan­ge­liza­tion in sign­ing the Lau­sanne Covenant. Clearly enough, they weren’t impressed by the WCC’s abil­ity to keep up the mis­sion­ary task of the church.

The post goes on to describe how the Global Christian Forum was founded and designed to compensate 'for their “under­rep­re­sen­ta­tion” else­where, as well as to demon­strate the will­ing­ness of “ecu­meni­cal vet­er­ans” to be in the minority'.
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Friday, 26 November 2010

Ecumenical Basics (2) - Contents

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.Image via Wikipedia
Yesterday I filled in the background of the ecumenical collaboration behind the Methodist resource 'Ecumenical Basics'.  Today, I intend to summarise its current contents.

There are 35 notes and this might seem a little daunting.  The idea is that each page is no more than one side of A4.  This means they can be copied and circulated for training events, etc.

The first 21 notes owe most to 'Bishops Behaving Ecumenically' and are a basic introduction to ecumenical work for District Chairs.  Where I have made changes it is to widen the scope of the work so that anyone involved with District ecumenical work might learn from it.  There is a mixture of material about general principles of ecumenism and suggestions about how to organise ecumenical work.  The value of this material is that its first author is someone with significant experience, sharing tips about how he organises his work.  Here are a couple of paragraphs from the section 'Taking Time to Learn':

What we seek is a maturity of relationship with ecumenical colleagues, so that communication is open and real not tentative and partial. Trust needs time to grow and a key step is to take the learning process seriously.

We expect to learn the tools of our trade in a whole host of areas. We therefore properly give time to learning the language and procedures of ecumenical working. It is difficult enough learning how our own Church operates, so work which zigzags across a number of Churches, requiring joint attention and decision-making, is bound to be complex, and at times tedious.

This section goes on to suggest two types of learning that need to take place:
  • The basics about ecumenical structures and procedures
  • Learning how Partner Churches work
The remainder of the notes cover more specific material about how to set up ecumenical structures, eg
  • Local Ecumenical Partnerships
  • Churches Together Groups
  • Appointing Clergy
  • Sharing Church Buildings
  • Relationship with the United Reformed Church
  • the Anglican Methodist Covenant and the Ecumenical Canons
  • Joint Confirmations
I try to review these notes once a year or when there are obvious changes.  It's due for a review.  If there is information you would like me to add, please let me know via a comment below.
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Thursday, 25 November 2010

Ecumenical Basics (1) - Introduction

History of the Methodist Church, faceted glass...Image via Wikipedia
This post is the first in a series, highlighting some of the resources for ecumenical officers and others active in local ecumenism, available on the Methodist Church website (and possibly other sites  too).
I'm starting with the largest document, Ecumenical basics: Courtesies and practicalities - Introductory notes for district chairs and those working alongside them.  Today, I offer an account of its origins.

This resource for district chairs and other district officers draws upon notes prepared by Bishop David Hawtin for bishops and their diocesan staff.   'Bishops Behaving Ecumenically: Courtesies and Practicalities, Gateway Notes for Bishops and those working alongside us' (BBE) was written a few years ago by David Hawtin,  Bishop of Repton 1999 - 2006.

I adapted it to the needs and practices of the Methodist Church. Copies of this original paper can be found on the Anglican Methodist Covenant website.  In preparing the Methodist version, I ensured:
  1. Some material was reproduced from the BBE resource unaltered; material about history, attitudes and ecumenical procedures.
  2. Some material deals with the same topic but from a Methodist perspective and so incorporates Methodist insights and practices. Sometimes it is alongside the original material and sometimes replaces it entirely.
  3. Some are new notes, not present in the original.
Ecumenical Basics was prepared with gratitude to Bishop David Hawtin for his permission to adapt his material. He says he is delighted about this co-operative venture!

Please note these are guidelines only and it is the responsibility of local churches to discuss ecumenical issues with their District Ecumenical Officer or other advisors (legal, financial, property for example) as appropriate.

Rumour has it the Baptist Union of Great Britain are working on  their version.
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Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Beyond Boundaries: The Ecumenical Institute at Bossey

There is a page on the Methodist Church website about the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey.  They have their own newsletter, Beyond Boundaries, and the latest edition can be seen if you follow the link.

The newsletter covers a number of accounts of activities at the Institute.  Most notably is the headline account of the 62nd Graduate School, whose theme was 'Seek Peace and Pursue it'.  There is also an interesting article about the women in the Bossey Master Programmes, 2010.

There is a UK organisation, the Friends of Bossey, and this is the account of their plans, extracted from the newsletter:

Members of the UK Bossey Network held their annual meeting in London on October 18, 2010. Since 1998, the network has supported the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey through prayer, publicity, recruitment, and fund raising. They are planning their next visit to Bossey for September 2011 and will bring a group of ordinands from various theological schools in the UK. The goal is to give participants an experience of ecumenical formation and encounter with the global dimension of ecumenism and mission. The visit will provide opportunity for broad sharing and interaction with students of the Graduate School.
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Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Poverty of Ambition? Churches and a Politics of Hope

I haven't said very much about the Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT).  It is an example of ecumenical collaboration, where the Methodist Church, United Reformed Church (URC) and Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) work together (and often with wider groups of churches) to live out the gospel of Christ in Church and Society.  One reason I have given them minimal; coverage is they have their own blog, Praxis, which you can follow in the sidebar of this blog under 'Related Blogs'.

There are a couple of articles in Methodist E-news this month, which I reproduce here.  This will give you some idea of the work of JPIT.  The first is an overview of one area of work:

Over the last month the Methodist Church has reacted publicly to a number of Government proposals.

In collaboration with other denominations and agencies, it has accused the government of failing to take account of the reality of poverty. Although they welcome plans for a simplified benefits system, they raise concerns that the proposed reforms are based on inaccurate assumptions about the poor. To read more click here.

Also on the eve of the comprehensive government spending review the president of Conference, the Revd Alison Tomlin addressed a rally organised by the Trades Union Congress. In her speech she raised concerns that spending cuts will hit the poor hardest.

The Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the United Reformed Church have voiced concern over Chancellor George Osborne’s inaccurate use of welfare fraud statistics in his spending review speech. He claimed that welfare fraud is responsible for cheating tax payers out of £5 billion a year. But Church leaders said that this exaggerated figure depicts the poorest and most vulnerable in society as thieves. Discover more by clicking here.

This work will be further developed at a conference 'Poverty of Ambition? Churches and a Politics of Hope' on Saturday 22 January 2011.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain, The Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church are hosting an exciting free one-day conference on how our churches can engage with contemporary political issues. This will take place from 10.30am to 4.00pm at Carrs Lane Church Centre in Birmingham.

Will Hutton - author and journalist - will be giving the keynote address. The rest of the day will feature workshops on key policy issues for churches, such as poverty, debt, climate change, peace-making and the Big Society - as well as the opportunity to network over refreshments.

The day will appeal to anyone with a passion for social justice and wanting to help our churches to engage with government and the world around us. You are particularly encouraged to attend if you have a formal circuit or district role looking at church and society issues, if you are an enthusiast or campaigner, or if you just want to know more.

Attendance is free, including lunch, but advance registration is vital.  For more information and to register, click here.
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Monday, 22 November 2010

Evangelical Congress takes Reconciliation as Key to its Mission

Greater Cape TownImage via Wikipedia
This month's CTE News carries the following report about the third Lausanne Congress:

The third Congress of the Lausanne Movement met in Cape Town, South Africa. Delegates from 200 countries discussed evangelism [the way the Christian message is announced] in diverse contexts, styles and cultures. The theme of the event was “God in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5.19).

The Lausanne Movement seeks to be a global network of 'reflective practitioners' who share one vision for the work of world evangelisation. The movement began in 1974 when the Revd Dr Billy Graham and the Revd Dr John R.W. Stott convened the International Congress on World Evangelisation in Lausanne, Switzerland with the goal of framing “a biblical declaration on evangelism” and stating “what the relationship is between evangelism and social responsibility”. The Lausanne Covenant adopted by the first congress has been a rallying cry for many Christians, and for some it has come to define what is meant by “evangelical”. A delegation representing the World Council of Churches (WCC) and led by the WCC General Secretary, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, has been present at the third congress, in Cape Town, an event the Lausanne movement leadership refers to as its "most diverse gathering ever". Over the decades, the WCC and leaders of the Lausanne movement have engaged in lively dialogue concerning the nature of Christian mission, evangelism and social action. Tveit is the first WCC General Secretary to be invited to address such a congress. In his greeting on behalf of the WCC, Tveit spoke of Christians’ “common vision of the holistic mission of God.” He added, “Let us keep the road open, and the dialogue going, so that we learn from one another how we can participate in God’s mission together with respect to others as one Body of Christ.”

A landmark in Christian history

The year 2010 was chosen for this third Lausanne congress because it marks the 100th anniversary of the 1910 World Missionary Conference, convened in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was a climactic event following 19th-century missionary expansion, and has been identified by historians of Christianity as the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement. Several 2010 events are being held throughout the world in honour of this centenary, including a June consultation in Edinburgh at which Tveit provided introductory remarks.

Tveit told the congress in Cape Town that reconciliation is what being Christian “is all about." He said" "We are called to be one, to be reconciled, so that the world may believe that God reconciles the world to himself in Christ." In the opening session of the congress, the Revd Dr S. Douglas Birdsall, executive chair of the Lausanne Movement, also emphasised the theme of reconciliation. Birdsall welcomed participants, saying that reconciliation is "our focus, our calling and our passion. It is this reconciling gospel that brings us together." He encouraged delegates to draw close to each other as they were drawing close to God. "This is a working congress with a specific task. Its outcomes, shaped by us all as we look to God, could help to chart the course of world evangelisation for the next decades," he said.

The diversity of the congress in Cape Town was echoed by the Bible study groups in which delegates meet each morning to reflect together on a text from Ephesians. Participants shared their own observations and applied what they read to their own context. Each group was like a microcosm of the global church, providing an opportunity to sit together, learn from one another, show concern for one another, stimulate and build partnerships and also to pray for one another.

Voices for justice and reconciliation

In an interview, the moderator of the WCC Commission of World Mission and Evangelism, Metropolitan Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, said that in a historical context that requires greater unity among Christians, the participation of the WCC in this congress of the Lausanne movement would go a long way toward bridging the gap between evangelicals and the ecumenical movement, "a distinction that we need to overcome". "It is particularly reassuring to listen to the voices for justice and reconciliation," Mor Coorilos said. He added that he prays that the spirit of unity in the congress, which was also demonstrated by a broad constituency and in a tangible manner at the centennial celebrations of the 1910 World Mission Conference earlier this year in Edinburgh, could be sustained for a long time.
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