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Friday, 29 October 2010

Ecumenical Identity

Sets A (creatures with two legs) and B (creatu...Image via Wikipedia
Two intersecting circles illustrate Ken's point.
The following is a post prepared by Revd Ken Howcroft, Connexional Ecumenical Officer:

The word “identity” has kept cropping up at ecumenical meetings and discussions recently. Thinking about it, it strikes me that there has been a shift over the years.

At one time we looked for areas where the circles of our various Churches’ identities overlapped, and we thought of that area as our common Christian identity or the identity of the universal Church of Christ that we share in common. We then sought to do everything that we could to expand that area of overlap, seeing the things in it as the essence of our identity as parts of Christ’s Church and the things outside it as secondary. It led to us talking of “the coming great church” and “visible organic unity”.

There are great strengths in that. But there are also some potential problems. One is that the giving and receiving of gifts (“receptive ecumenism”) could come to be seen as a matter of exchanging luxuries or ephemera rather than essentials (rather like Christmas presents for people who have got everything they think they want!). Another is that Churches (particularly but not exclusively large and powerful ones) can tend to assume that their secondary markers of identity will remain and that other Churches will just accommodate to them.

A third problem is that it works best with a conciliar view of ecumenism (in which ecumenical Councils of Churches are seen as prototypical governance bodies of a single united Church that is coming into being). So the shift towards a Churches Together way of working has been accompanied by a radical shift in the model.

The idea of separate Churches working together in a way that leads to visible communion (rather than merger into an homogenous, single institution) means that what defines each Church’s identity becomes not what it shares in common with others but the special attributes and emphases or particular combinations of them which distinguish it from others.

The danger then, however, is that things which seemed to be second-order or non-essential issues forty years ago now take on first-order importance (a phenomenon noted by the Archbishop of Canterbury in a speech in Rome last year). In this model the common essence of what it means to be Christ’s Church tends to vanish out of sight, or at best be subsumed into the things which differentiate that Church from others.

Moreover receptive ecumenism now becomes a giving and receiving of gifts that is akin to trading in essentials, with all the power-brokering that that entails. In other words it becomes even more difficult to do, particularly where the essentials are in tension with each other: for example (and admittedly to caricature the point in order to make it), “I will receive the gift of the historic episcopate from you provided that you receive from me the gift of the primary locus of oversight being the local congregation with which nobody else can interfere”.

I would like to think that there was another way forward. Identities are not suits of clothes that you can simply put on and take off. Even an actor who takes on the outward markers and even the intellectual and emotional mindset of a whole range of different characters has to find an integrity of performance, and that means recognising how the identity being assumed as an actor connects with the essential identity of the actor as a person.

Who we are as individuals and as Churches develops and changes over time. It gets expressed and re-expressed in different contexts. There are continuities and discontinuities in those forms of expression. But unless there is some underlying continuity in the development the result is dis-ease, a lack of wholeness and, dare I say it, a deficiency of holiness.

Thus my identity includes the fact that I am a son, to which I have added that of being a husband and being a father. But I would be a dysfunctional father if I forgot what it is to be a son. Similarly when St Paul says “To the Jews I became as a Jew… to the Greeks I became as a Greek… etc” in 1 Corinthians 9, he is not talking of a complete identity transplant. The one who becomes as a Jew and as a Greek remains the same Christian-Pharisaic-Jew or Jewish-Pharisaic-Christian. But that identity changes and develops as it is expressed in the different contexts.

To personalise it all, although I have not lived there for many years I am shaped by the fact that I come from a particular sort of setting in Lancashire. Similarly I shall always be shaped by the fact that I am a Methodist. But just as I can be a Lancastrian and live in other parts of the world, and be an ordained minister in the Church rather than a coal-miner, so I can be a Methodist within a wider expression of the Church. I admit that I am helped in that by the fact that Methodism’s origins (which set the parameters for its identity) were in being a movement inside another Church.

I therefore believe that a move into visible communion where what marks the Church of Christ is at least the highest common factor of our authentic identities as separate Churches (rather than the lowest common denominator of overlapping identity as in the first model above) and hopefully (in the theological sense of that term) more, and which can contain our differing identities in relationships which enrich us all, is possible.

So what is stopping us? At the recent joint meeting of the Methodist Council and the URC Mission Council people kept saying that there were things preventing them working together in worship and mission in local situations. When we asked them to say what they were, we had to keep saying “But you can already do that!”.

So is what is stopping us either a lack of confidence in our common identity as the Church of Christ, or our separate identities as Churches in Christ, or is it a lack of will?
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Thursday, 28 October 2010

Joint Councils Catch Up

English: Congregational Chapel overlooking Eal...Image via Wikipedia
Here are reports of some sessions at the joint councils meeting between the Methodist and United Reformed Churches.  Anna Drew posted about the meeting here and David Tatum has posted here.  All the relevant reports, including those where Methodist Council met alone, are available on the Methodist Church website.  These reports should address most questions but please comment if you have anything to say or further questions.
  • The joint meeting began with an exploration of the history, context and characteristics of each denomination, with contributions by leaders from both Churches. There is a paper, BT1001: How our Churches work: an introduction to the URC Mission Council and the Methodist Council.
  • Bishop Graham Cray, leader of the ecumenical Fresh Expressions team, led a session, which invited all present to give examples of FX initiatives, and to discuss how to build on these.
  • The two General Secretaries set out the major themes for the two Churches. First, Roberta Rominger spoke about how they have reviewed the structure and finances of the URC, but she also set out a transformational vision called Vision4Life. This is a three year programme with one year focusing on Bible study, one on prayer and one on evangelism. Martyn Atkins spoke about the Methodist Conference statements Our Calling and Priorities for the Methodist Church, and how those have led on to the process Regrouping for Mission and the current discipleship focus.
  • The joint meeting heard some challenging but energising presentations about children’s and youth work. These acknowledged many young people have at best a dim understanding of religion, but also the opportunity is there if we can find relevant and exciting ways to speak of Christ to these age groups. The meeting broke into groups to discuss the challenges and opportunities of children’s and youth work and later voted to commit the Churches to closer working in this area.  See the paper: BT1003 Which Way Now?: engaging with children and young people in our contemporary context.
  • A similar process followed for a resolution on poverty and government cuts that came from one of the workshops. This resolution calls for the churches to stand alongside the poorest and most vulnerable, and also to resist language that stigmatises the poor or implies that in some way poverty is a lifestyle choice or the fault of the poor.
  • There was a major session on buildings, and how we make the most of what we have to support mission, including looking at the social uses of church buildings. This led on to talking about suitable, sustainable buildings, and how we can share some resources to enable each Church to make the best use of its buildings. Council members voted in favour of a resolution committing the two churches to working together on this matter.  See the paper:  BT1004 Building Opportunities – Report of the Church Buildings Think Tank.
  • The joint meeting reviewed the post of Methodist/URC National Rural Officer and agreed to extend the role until August 2016, with a further review to take place in 2015.  See the paper: BT1005 Review of the Methodist/United Reformed National Rural Officer Post.
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Wednesday, 27 October 2010

CTE Enabling Group Catch Up

Christ Pantocrator, detail of the Deesis mosaicImage via Wikipedia
Here are some of the things the recent meeting of Churches Together in England's Enabling Group recorded in its minutes.  I've already posted about the General Secretary's presentation, The Ecumenical Landscape and the Rights to Warmth Campaign.  As always, I can provide more information upon request.
  • The Free Church of England is to become a member of CTE.  It has been a member of the Free Churches Group for some time.
  • Urban Mission will be considered a Co-ordinating Group of CTE for urban mission.  I hope to post about this group in the not too distant future.
  • There was a progress report on planning for the next CTE Forum, which will take place at Swanwick, 23-25 October 2012. The programme will be based around I Cor 12 -14, which will allow a range of themes to emerge as the needs of the times became clearer – the Spirit and the body of Christ, diversity and belonging together, the gifts of the Spirit etc.  A connection with receptive ecumenism will be established  through group work.
  • A far-reaching change has occurred within the Orthodox family of churches. The Orthodox Patriarchs, meeting at Chambourcy last year, addressed the question of parallel jurisdictions in diaspora lands, and stated Orthodox bishops in each country should form a united assembly under the senior bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This applies to all the Eastern Orthodox. It will eventually encompass the Oriental Orthodox as well.
  • There is a new development in United Reformed Church ecclesiology. The Moderatorship of their Assembly, which had previously been vested in one person, is now expressed through the Co-Moderatorship of a minister and a lay-person, who are equals in their Moderatorship.
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Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Rights to Warmth

Loft insulation ad at IBM Start!Image by Tom Raftery via Flickr
At Churches Together in England's Enabling Group last month, members were invited to encourage their churches to support the Rights to Warmth campaign.  Plenty of details are on their website.  For those who haven't time to follow the link, a brief account of their work, adapted from their information, follows.

Affordability of heating for the home is a problem for many.  Help is available but has relatively low take-up for many.  What's going on?

There were 36 700 winter deaths in 2008/9, which is regarded as excessive.  There were also over 290 000 estimated emergency hospital admissions.  Cold exacerbates many conditions, eg a living room temperature 1degree C lower increases blood pressure by 1.3mmHg.  Cold air affects the protective function of the respiratory tract.  These lead to increased possibility of strokes, pneumonia, asthma, arthritis, mental confusion and social health.

Failure to stray warm at home is a function of energy consumption, condition of housing, low income, cost of energy and attitudes.  The danger is that elderly people are less sensitive to cold than younger people and so they are less aware when they are cold. 

Advice is available for all people about reducing energy consumption.  There is a definition of 'fuel poverty', which is a gateway to additional support.  There are 'warm front' grants to improve home energy efficiency and benefit entitlements for people with low incomes.  All energy suppliers have a Priority Services Register for vulnerable customers, which means they receive special free services, including discounted tariffs, although eligibility varies.

Take up is low and this seems to be largely through a lack of trust in suppliers.  People don't trust being 'sold to' and find the system difficult to navigate.

Rights to Warmth is an information campaign, raising awareness of the health effects of cold, why accepting support is responsible and the need for community support (including churches).  People might accept support form GPs and community sources, eg by looking out for people.  Use of thermometers would help.

The overall impact of cold means people have reduced independence, are less able to participate socially and increase costs to the NHS.
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Monday, 25 October 2010

Global Christian Forum

night view of Jakarta, IndonesiaImage via Wikipedia
News of the next Global Christian Forum, from the latest edition of CTE News, October 2010.  The last meeting took place in Nairobi in November 2007.

The second Global Christian Forum Gathering will take place on 4 – 7 October 2011 at Hotel Seruni in Cisarua, near Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. The gathering will bring together some three hundred participants from the widest possible range of Christian traditions and from all parts of the world. It will focus on stories reflecting what the Spirit is saying to the churches, on the rapidly changing and multiple faces of world Christianity today and what these mean for Christian unity and common witness. The gathering will also be asked to provide guidance for the GCF beyond 2011. In deciding to go to Indonesia the GCF Committee wants to recognize once again the shifting of the centre of Christianity to the global South (the first Global Forum Gathering was in Limuru, Kenya, in November 2007). Four national church bodies in Indonesia: the PGI (Ecumenical), the PGPI (Pentecostal), the PGLII (Evangelical) and the KWI (Catholic) will join forces to receive the second Global Forum Gathering and to take care of all the local arrangements.

The GCF Committee has approved the setting up of two Foundations to further the process of the Global Christian Forum in the areas of fundraising and administration. Since its inception some twelve years ago the Global Christian Forum has been a movement, or a process, and the committee has affirmed on several occasions its resolve not to institutionalize it as an established international organization. With the growing response to the initiatives of the GCF and the expectation that it will continue for some time into the future certain constraints regarding its financial sustainability and operational capacity have surfaced. In order to respond to these needs the committee has decided that two Foundations will be created, in Switzerland and in the USA. As legal entities these Foundations will be entitled to raise, receive and manage funds on behalf of the Global Christian Forum and to provide other legal support as may be required. The authority to guide and direct the GCF will remain with the committee.


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Friday, 22 October 2010

The Ecumenical Landscape

John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890)Image via Wikipedia
A Presentation made by Revd Dr David Cornick, General Secretary of Churches Together in England , to their Enabling Group on 18th September 2010, during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain, can be found on CTE's website.  It is a good read and raises a number of important issues about ecumenism in Britain today.  The article is too long to reproduce in full but I summarise it here and extract a couple paragraphs.  If you find them interesting, take a look at the full article.
  • The wider ecumenical context of the Pope's visit
... let Newman’s honesty remind us that one of the realities that underlies our ecumenical pilgrimage is that we start from different places. Those of us who are Protestants are formed by an ecumenical heritage which is about meeting together in council. It is commonly, if wrongly, dated from the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910, the centenary of which we are celebrating this year. As the Protestant churches gathered in council did their theology, they perceived the unity of the church to have been given once for all in Christ, and concluded that it had been masked by the divisions of history, so the ecumenical task was to make that given unity visible.
  • Ecumenism as adjustment or restoration?
  • Decline of the Free Churches and the consequent changes to the ecumenical scene over the last 120 years.
  • Pan-protestant ecumenism: does service divide or unite?
According to Theos, most British people welcome Pope Benedict’s social teaching. Not least on economics and social research. That allows me to explore another tension in our ecumenical landscape. That is the tension between differing Christian world-views. I believe we need to do a good deal of patient work here, because there are complex things going on, and they cut across denominations, not only between them. The faultline which exposes these different worldviews runs through the role of women, gender issues and human sexuality. What should concern us ecumenically is not that Christians have different understandings of those matters. Christians also have different understandings of the role of economics, the nature of the sacraments, and beginning and end of life issues. What matters ecumenically is that we reach beyond the divisive issue to begin to understand how the worldviews that lead us to those conclusions are formed. In other words, we need to apply the same principles of listening and respectful dialogue which have done so much to heal our past misunderstandings.
  • Conservatism and liberalism as reactions to post-enlightenment thought
  • implications of Anne Rice's views for mission in the west
That generosity has been, I believe, a significant factor is bringing about the symbolic healing of our nation after nearly half a millennium of persecution, suspicion, fear and hatred which we have been part of this weekend. It is, I believe, desperately needed not only within the church, but in English society and in the global village. I pray that together, in obedience to Christ, and empowered by the Spirit, we will have the courage to keep that light burning.
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Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization

Four thousand people are currently attending the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Cape Town.  It started on 16 October and continues until 25 October 2010.  There's a lot of material on the website.  Also John Baxter Brown is present and posting about it on his blog.  The following are a few excerpts from the Congress website that explain what it is about.

We believe 2010 is a significant year in which to hold the congress.  2010 is the 100th anniversary of the 1910 World Missionary Conference, convened in Edinburgh, Scotland under the leadership of John R. Mott.  CT2010 gives the church an opportunity to celebrate the Edinburgh Conference and the progress made in missions and evangelization since that time.  It also offers an opportunity to take an inventory of where we are as a global church.  What have we learned with regard to missions and evangelization since 1910?  What mistakes have been made and what can we learn from them?  What new challenges and opportunities are before us in sharing the gospel? 

The Lausanne Movement is a dynamic, catalytic environment in which like-minded missional leaders can engage with one another face to face and through technology to deal with the seminal issues that are before us with respect to world evangelization.  Lausanne provides a theological basis (The Lausanne Covenant) that allows leaders to move forward in their development of collaborative relationships and partnerships in theological reflection and with strategic action. 

CT2010 is the third major Lausanne world congress.  In July 1974 some 2,700 participants and guests from over 150 nations gathered in Lausanne, Switzerland for the International Congress on World Evangelization.  Since 1974, dozens of Lausanne-related global, regional, and topical conferences have been convened all over the world.
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Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Free Churches Group

The Methodist Church of Great Britain is a member of the Free Churches Group, which comprises twenty-two denominations, some of whom are also in membership with Churches Together in England

Since the 1880s there have been bodies established to enable the 'Free Churches' to have a common voice and public presence. The Declaratory Statement of Faith and Practice from 1917 continues to serve as the basis for membership. In 1940 the Free Church Federal Council was created, bringing together a number of predecessor bodies.
 
The Free Churches Group and Churches Together in England work within a Joint Operating Agreement, whereby financial and personnel resources are shared to a very large extent.  Though the two organisations have very different backgrounds in the current climate of inter-church relationships it is hard to see the join between the two. There are some denominations who belong to the FCG but not to CTE.

If you are interested in finding out more, they have just launched a revamped website:
 
As of Wednesday 13th October 2010 the Free Churches Group has a dedicated website address that takes you to the Free Church pages of the CTE WebsiteYou will note that, although these pages are within the CTE site, they are formatted differently. The banner heading is clear and all the tabs lead to pages for the Free Churches. All these pages can also be accessed from within the CTE pages, using the appropriate tabs. CTE pages can be accessed from the Free Churches home page using the top-left link.

The Moderator of the FCG is one of the Churches Together in England's four presidents, representing all the Free Churches, including the Methodist Church. 

At its Annual General Meeting held on 28th September the Free Churches Group elected its Moderator for the period 2011 - 2015.  He is Revd Michael Heaney, who serves as the General Secretary of the Congregational Federation.  A service of Induction is to be held in the Spring of 2011. Michael will succeed Commissioner Betty Matear (Salvation Army) in the role of Moderator, serving also as a President of Churches Together in England, alongside Archbishops Rowan Williams and Vincent Nichols.
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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Faith and Order Centenary

FaithImage by Lawrence OP via Flickr
A history lesson seems appropriate for today.  This is from the latest edition of CTE News, October 2010.

Tuesday 19 October 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of the Faith and Order movement. “Faith and Order” seeks Christian unity through theological dialogue among representatives of various churches. The beginnings of Faith and Order are closely linked to the World Missionary Conference of June 1910 in Edinburgh, Scotland. The focus of the Edinburgh Conference was cooperation in global Christian mission. Questions around church-dividing issues and controversial points of doctrine were intentionally avoided during public discussions in Edinburgh, yet they were in the minds of many who attended.

One participant in the conference was Charles Brent, a Canadian by birth, a missionary bishop then serving in the Philippines on behalf of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America. The idea of a Faith and Order conference began with Bishop Brent, who made the link between the Edinburgh Conference with its call for Christian unity and the need to resolve issues of faith and order in the divided churches. He recognized that the “self-denying ordinance” not to discuss questions of difference was a good one in the context of missionary strategy, but that questions of faith and order needed their own appropriate forum, and in such a forum they might be discussed and resolved through dialogue. At the end of the Edinburgh Conference, Brent said: During these past days a new vision has been unfolded to us. But whenever God gives a vision He also points to some new responsibility, and you and I, when we leave this assembly, will go away with some fresh duties to perform.

Bishop Brent returned to the United States in 1910 for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, held in October of that year. Brent prepared a resolution for the General Convention that would have major consequences for the nascent ecumenical movement. On 19 October 1910, the General Convention unanimously passed a resolution calling for a world conference of the representatives of all the churches “for the consideration of questions pertaining to the Faith and Order of the Church of Christ”. This action of a church – not a theological faculty or missionary society – ensured an ecclesial commitment to overcome past histories by means of theological dialogue and to prepare the way for the Church’s unity in faith, order, life, work, worship and mission so that the world may believe in Christ. As G√ľnther Gassmann, a former director of Faith and Order for the World Council of Churches (WCC), has written: “Faith and Order was and is a movement of and in the churches. All theological efforts on all levels within churches and between churches towards closer and, finally, full communion are, in a way, Faith and Order efforts.”

There were other significant American calls for the resolution of church-dividing issues around the same time as the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, notably from the National Council of Congregational Churches and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), both on 18 October 1910. However, the date of 19 October 1910 marks the institutional beginning of the Faith and Order movement that would lead directly to the First World Conference on Faith and Order in Lausanne, 1927. Bishop Charles Brent presided over the 1927 event. Faith and Order, along with the Life and Work movement, became a constitutive element of the World Council of Churches at the inauguration of that body in 1948. The Commission on Faith and Order continues to be a vital dimension of the work of the WCC.
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Monday, 18 October 2010

Biblefresh:Reading the Bible Together as a Church

Further to a recent post about Biblefresh, I have found more details about their approach to the Bible in 2011.  This is from the Biblefresh website and quoted in the September issue of CTAL Notepad.  Although this is a newsletter for churches in Lincolnshire, it includes information other areas might use.

Research has shown that Christians struggle to read the Bible regularly, so this is a good starting point for Biblefresh. By ‘reading’ we don’t just mean looking at the words on the page, but whatever it takes for you to ingest the Word of God, whether that’s listening to a podcast or watching a dramatic reading.

Whilst we want to encourage personal Bible reading, we recognise that the Bible was written to be read in community. When we study the Bible together rather than alone, we are less likely to skew the message, as each person brings a different perspective.

Why not make 2011 a year to read through the whole Bible as a church? There are plenty of schemes to help you, several with online commentary and forums.  Or you could focus in on some books that you’ve never really read before. Have a look at some of these resources to help you decide.

And of course, if we study the Bible together, an ecumenical group is likely to benefit from a wider range of approaches and insights.  To take this line of thought a step forward, it might be worth exploring scriptural reasoning.  They write: 'Scriptural Reasoning is the communal practice of reading sacred scriptures, in small groups, together. Normally the passages of scripture chosen are Jewish, Christian and Muslim and are linked together by a particular issue, theme, story or image. When read together in this way participants – or “reasoners” - have found that astonishing, powerful and, at times, quite surprising, new conversations and relationships may open up.'
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Friday, 15 October 2010

Pentecostals and WCC Need Each Other

Olav Fykse Tveit, Norwegian theologian. Genera...Image via Wikipedia
This article is reproduced from the September edition of CTE News.  I don't reproduce everything from this newsletter and so if you are interested, you can subscribe to it from the CTE website.

“Among the many challenges that we face in the search for Christian unity is the need to overcome divisions and prejudices that exclude one another,” Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) said Wednesday, 24 August to the 22nd Pentecostal World Conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

In his greeting – the first ever offered by a WCC general secretary to a Pentecostal World Conference – Tveit highlighted the hope that comes with being invited to the conference and spoke of his personal experience with Pentecostal churches. He also expressed how the WCC and Pentecostals have a common call in God’s mission and need each other to fulfil this call.

“It is my deep conviction that the member churches of the WCC, some of which are Pentecostal, need the closer bond to the Pentecostal churches you represent,” he said to the group. “And it is my humble conviction that you need us. To be one is to give witness together to the cross and the resurrection of Christ, to follow God's call together to work for justice and peace in God's world, to obey God's commandment to be a good neighbour to all need us as whoever they are, wherever they live, whatever skin colour they may have and whatever religion they might follow,” he said.

Referencing the first letter to the Corinthians in the New Testament where the apostle Paul says there are many members in the church, yet one body, Tveit said, “I cannot say to any brother or sister in Christ that I have no need for you. We need each other because it is only together that we can grow into the one body of Christ.”

Acknowledging his Scandinavian roots, Tveit, who is Norwegian, said the Pentecostal movement has contributed much to the spiritual life of the Nordic countries and to his own faith journey. He said part of his ecumenical journey includes “being richly blessed” by family members who belong to Pentecostal churches and participating in the processes that led the Norwegian Pentecostal churches to full membership in the Christian Council of Norway.

Reflecting on the conference theme of “Equip Yourself, Others and the Church” as “a call for growth together in unity for God’s great mission,” Tveit said that the WCC and Pentecostal churches “will find new ways of witnessing to our unity in Christ and sharing in God’s mission. That you have welcomed me here today is one such sign of hope.”
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Thursday, 14 October 2010

Better Together

Now, I think of myself as an ecumenical person. As an Anglican working for the Methodist Church I'm a sort of embodiment of the covenant (though not always a very good one).

But as the lead media officer for the British Methodist Church, I'm well aware that the Church of England is not our only significant partnership. A significant amount of my work is with the Joint Public Issues Team - a team made up of Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Church colleagues working together on politics and social action. It's challenging, rewarding and exciting working with such a diverse team on the issues that really matter, and it's a real privilege to work with my Baptist and URC counterparts (Chris Hall and Gill Nichol).

Part of my job is to attend the Methodist Council three or four times a year so that I can help to communicate the decisions made by the Council to the wider Church. As a new Connexional year kicks off, our first Council of the year is something quite different to anything we've done before. This time, the Methodist Church and the URC have decided to hold a joint meeting of the URC Mission Council and the Methodist Council, so that we can better explore those areas in which our effectiveness in mission might be improved by working together.

URC Press & Media Offiicer Gill Nichol has written a fantastic overview of what this joint meeting (aka 'Better Together') is all about.

Yesterday our joint sessions kicked off with chance to explore a little of the histories and identities of the Methodist Church and the URC, expertly chaired by Revd Dr Kirsty Thorpe, in which church members shared their thoughts on key elements of their traditions and the identity of their denominations. This was followed by a challenging bible study led by Lawrence Moore, Moderator-Elect of the URC General Assembly, entitled 'Peter, Paul and the Gentiles: Radical Inclusion in the Early Church'. In the evening we were visited by Rt Revd Graham Cray (aka the 'Fresh Expressions' Bishop) who shared with us the latest on that growing ecumenical initiative.

We're now in day two of our 3-day meeting, talking about decision-making procedures in the Churches before we'll soon launch into a discussion about how we use our buildings. This morning our General Secretaries (Revd Dr Martyn Atkins for the Methodist Church and Revd Roberta Rominger for the URC) shared what the different Churches' priorities are and how we are planning to move forward with them in the coming years. We also had the opportunity to hear about the huge range of youth and children's work that's being done by teams from both organisations. There was a clear focus for both on the participation of children and young people in all areas of church life and the participants broke into groups to discuss the challenges and opportunities in greater depth.

So, now on to buildings...watch this space for more info....

A Statement from the Churches Group for Evangelisation

Churches Together in England have issued a press release, dated 23 September 2010, from the Churches Group for Evangelisation meeting at High Leigh on 21 and 22 September. 

Local Churches and Biblefresh, More than Gold, Hope Together 2011-2014

As members of the Churches Group for Evangelisation, we encourage churches in England to engage in the home mission opportunities afforded by the national initiatives Biblefresh, More than Gold and Hope Together, as they feed into national, regional and local churches programmes.

These three major initiatives complement each other, and provide significant resources for mission for the next four years. Each home mission initiative will provide a positive legacy for the future in terms of deepening discipleship, church growth, community transformation and people finding faith in Christ.

We encourage local groups of churches to:
  1. research the potential of each initiative
  2. pray and discern a vision
  3. strategically plan together in your own local context
  4. work in close collaboration
… celebrating the various diverse gifts and strengths in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ together.

Information
The Churches Group for Evangelisation is a Coordinating Group of Churches Together in England, with representatives of member churches and associated home mission agencies.

Websites:
http://www.cte.org.uk/
http://www.biblefresh.com/
http://www.morethangold.org.uk/
http://www.hopetogether.org.uk/

Further information:
Captain Jim Currin, CA.
Secretary for Evangelisation
Churches Together in England, 27 Tavistock Sq WC1H 9HH
020 7529 8135
Jim.currin@cte.org.uk
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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

European Church Buildings Forum and Network

Sand Gargoyle at the Council of EuropeImage by adamblang via Flickr
Here is an example of collaboration between churches and non-church organisations.  This article is copied from the Church of England, Council for Christian Unity's European Bulletin – No 65,  September 2010.

A forum on the threats and opportunities to historic places of worship and developing a Europe-wide response will be held at Canterbury Cathedral Lodge between Wednesday 10 and Saturday 13 November 2010 hosted by the Churches Conservation Trust in partnership with European partner organisations. There will be delegations representing the following countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and UK will be attending.

The forum is being sponsored by the newly formed European Policy Network for Historic Places of Worship. The Network aims to:
  • raise the profile and protect Europe’s historic places of worship
  • provide a means of communication, through the forum and a website (see link below)
  • share common problems and solutions
  • identify areas where a Europe-wide response is appropriate
  • work with and build on existing and past initiatives on historic churches, including the Report to the Council of Europe 1989 and the Montreal Forum on future uses for churches in 2005
For website information about the November Forum and the Network please go to http://www.placesofworshipeu.org/
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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Better Together

Fairground, Looe Harbour.Image via Wikipedia
Better Together is a joint meeting of the Methodist Council and the United Reformed Church Mission Council.  It starts on Wednesday this week, 13 October, and continues until Friday.  Details of the agenda and papers can be found on the Methodist Church website

The following items will be discussed during the joint sessions:
  • Exploring our history, context and characteristics within a framework of worship.  This item will include discussion of the Closer Working Consultation Resolution.
  • The General Secretaries unpack the two Churches’ current major themes
  • Groups explore the key challenges facing the Church locally and denominationally
  • Fresh Expressions: presentation and discussion led by Bishop Graham Cray
  • Bible Study led by Laurence Moore, Moderator-elect of the General Assembly
  • Ways Ahead for Children & Youth Work
  • Church Building Opportunities
  • The Church in the World
Leave a comment if you would like more information about any of these items.  Associated papers can be found at the first link in this post.
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Monday, 11 October 2010

5-way Consultation Starts Today

1910 World Missionary Conference Assembly Hall...Image via Wikipedia
Today marks the start of a unique 5-way consultation of denominational ecumenical officers.  See the earlier post, Edinburgh 1910-2010: Towards Unity in Mission, for more detail. This consultation is a joint venture between Churches Together in England and the Ecumenical Officers of the Baptist Union, Church of England, Methodist Church, Roman Catholic Church and United Reformed Church. The first 24 hours (from lunch on Monday 11th to lunch on Tuesday 12th October) is the Open Conference, in which four speakers will explore the main conference theme together with 95 Denominational Ecumenical Officers of the five churches and a further 20 participants.

The second 24 hours (from after lunch on Tuesday 12th to lunch on Wednesday 13th October) is the Consultation for the Ecumenical Officers of the five churches, which will take up the theme of the conference and relate it to their work. This will be a time of reflecting together, sharing issues and looking for new ways of working together. This is the first time such a meeting of ecumenical officers has taken place, and this in itself is a significant development.

Here are some details of the contributions from the speakers for the first 24 hours:
 
The Revd Dr Jeremy Morris has recently taken up the position of Dean of King's College, Cambridge. His academic interests include modern European church history, Anglican theology and ecclesiology, the ecumenical movement, and arguments about religion and secularization.
'Edinburgh 1910-2010: Mission and Unity in Context'
This opening address will explore the impact of the World Missionary Conference of 1910, taking into account both contemporaries’ views and those of subsequent generations. How is it that a conference constructed primarily as a celebration of mission, which took as its watchword ‘The evangelization of the world in this generation’, has come to be remembered primarily as a key step in the emergence of the ecumenical movement? And how is it that the ‘Faith and Order’ agenda, which has often been traced back to Edinburgh, became separated from the evolution of the institutional agencies of the missionary movement? Looking at the history of the interpretation of Edinburgh 1910 is a way into understanding the place and prospect of religion in the twentieth and early twenty-first century, with all the implications that follow for the relationship of unity and mission today, both in Britain, and in the wider world.

Dr Kirsteen Kim was Research Coordinator of the Edinburgh 2010 project from 2009-2010. She is Associate Principal Lecturer and Director of Programmes in Theology and Religious Studies at Leeds Trinity University College and serves as Vice-Moderator of the World Council of Churches’ Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, on which she represents CTBI.
'Edinburgh 1910-2010: The Development of the Discipline of Missiology'
Dr Kim’s address will look at the development of missiology by highlighting shifts in the mission theology of Edinburgh 2010 compared to Edinburgh 1910, with particular reference to global, cultural and regional factors. It will enquire what these shifts mean for unity in mission and also suggest local implications for mission in the British context for further discussion.

Father James Hanvey S.J. is currently the Director of the Heythrop Institute for Religion, Ethics and Public Life.  His address will focus on the interface between faith and culture.

The Revd Dr Stephen Finamore is Principal of the Bristol Baptist College.
He will be leading the study of the following Bible Texts: Mark 1.1-20, Genesis 1.28, 12.1-3, Psalm 96, Isaiah 2.2-4, Matthew 28.18-20, Galatians 3.27-29, Revelation 21.22-26.

As always, leave a comment if you would like more detail about any of these.
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Friday, 8 October 2010

'An Anglican Methodist Covenant' Website

Signatories to the Covenant, in the presence of the Queen.
During 2006, Revd John Cole and I developed a website for the Anglican-Methodist Covenant. We did this at the time of a series of 10 roadshows, delivered by the Joint Implementation Commission (JIC).
 
The website is now somewhat dated, although some of the information on it is still useful. It needs to be reviewed and I will be doing this over the next few months, with colleagues from the JIC.

At their meeting on Wednesday, the JIC set up a small group to look at communications in general. On the same day I had a meeting where the AMC website was discussed and we are considering developing a new website, more interactive than the current one. The current site would be used as an archive so long as material on it is still current.

In the meantime the home page of the old site now has some up-to-date information (scroll down) about the memberships of JIC and the Methodist-Anglican Panel for Unity and Mission (MAPUM).

It would be helpful to have some feedback from potential users, so if you have a few minutes to explore the site and comment on this post, it would be most helpful.

Here are some questions, you might consider:

  1. Do you think it is a good idea to start a new more interactive site? Would you use it?
  2. What information would you like to see on the new site?
  3. Do you have news, pictures, ideas to contribute to the site?
  4. Do you have any thoughts about the presentation of the site?
  5. Is there anything on the site you consider to be unhelpful?
I will draw attention to major changes as they happen.

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Thursday, 7 October 2010

Two European Ecumenical Events in England

Climate Change - Do Your Policies Protect My F...Image by Takver via Flickr
The following two events are from a special issue of the European Bulletin. 

WPCT CHARLEMAGNE LECTURE

The Annual WPCT Charlemagne Lecture this year is taking place on Tuesday 19 October at 6:45 pm at the River room at King’s College London. The speaker is Philip Lowe who has held a number of top European Commission posts in the fields of regional development, agriculture, transport and administration and is currently the Director General of the Energy Directorate. His theme is “Energy Policy in a Changing Climate”. For more details contact Win Burton on wpctrust@googlemail.com.

CONFERENCE AT ASTON UNIVERSITY

I have received details of a conference at Aston University on 12 - 13 November entitled "Does God Matter? Representing Religion in the European Union and the United States" with expert guest speakers. The best way of accessing the details is to go to the link: http://www1.aston.ac.uk/lss/research/centres-institutes/aston-centre-europe/projects-grants/religion-eu/conference/ 

The deadline for registering is 15 October.

The organiser, Dr Lucian Leustean (who lectures at Aston) is researching into European ecumenical church twinning links: how and when they started, how they developed, events that have taken place etc. If you are able to provide help and information I am sure he would be delighted to hear from you. His email is: L.LEUSTEAN@aston.ac.uk

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Wednesday, 6 October 2010

What do we mean by 'Arminianism'?

Eunice Attwood, Vice-President of Methodist Conference has posted on the The President and Vice President of the Methodist Conference blog about the Faith and Order Network Conference, a couple of weeks ago, 'What is Arminianism in the 21st Century?'

This is of interest to ecumenists because it is a theological approach tied up with Methodist identity.  It remains, for example, one of the theological issues still outstanding in the conversations about the Anglican Methodist Covenant.

Eunice's post lists the sessions at the Conference and I am planning a series of posts, which will summarise some of the material.  Martin Wellings presented the first session, entitled 'What do we mean by Arminianism?', where he defined the term and covered some of the history.   This is my gloss on what he said and any mistakes are mine.

Although Arminianism is understood to be tied into Methodist identity, there is concern it is being eroded, particularly as traditional hymnody falls into disuse.  However, the dialogue with reformed theology continues, although to day it much more friendly than it used to be!

Calvin during the sixteenth century made the predestination in Luther, Augustine and (arguably) Paul explicit, although it was his followers who made it into a theological system.  Arminius, a Dutch theologian during the late sixteenth century, and the Remonstrants argued, against high Calvinism, Jesus died for all and not just the elect.  By the 1590s, the Calvinist consensus in the Church of England was challenged by a fusion of anti-Calvinists, remonstrants and high church clergy.  These were lambasted as crypto-Catholics.

Wesley took up an 'Arminianism of the heart, arguing God foreknows but salvation is not foreordained'.  Calvinism, it was argued, destroys moral responsibility and leads to mechanical holiness.  Wesley recognised the role of depravity and grace and this led to his famous words: 'All may be saved'.  To other evangelicals this sounded like Pelagianism.

By 1937, to leap over a lot of history, it was claimed Methodism had made an end to Calvinism.  Since then there has been a reformed revival.

Our response today?  Wellings makes four suggestions:
  1. The need to treat the Reformed tradition with respect. 
  2. Methodists need to ask whether they are really evangelical Arminians today.  Do we really believe in sovereign grace, holiness and universal salvation?  This last should not be confused with universalism, the belief that everyone will be saved.
  3. Arminianism leads to an open metaphysics, allowing God to be God, rather than considering all things to have been foreordained.
  4. We need to consider how we hand on tradition.  Much of Methodist tradition is not expressed in doctrine and so we need to pay attention to how faith is handed on.
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