Monday, 28 February 2011

Action for Churches Together in Scotland Networks 2010

The Holy and Undivided TrinityImage by Lawrence OP via Flickr
In the Methodist report on Ecumenical Relations in Scotland 2010, there is a long section about Action for Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS).  This post is devoted to its networks.

ACTS Mission Network

During 2010 the Mission Network published its review titled "Through the Keyhole" which focused on the state of our churches and their place in our communities both through the eyes of church goers but also of the "unchurched".  The report highlighted some interesting observations although most reflect other studies.  "Being Church in Areas of New Development" has continued to be a major focus of the ACTS Mission Network's activities through 2010.  New work being undertaken includes: "Mission Shaped Church" with a specific initiative being "Cafe Church" on which a couple of courses have been run and an embryo network of those interested established.  This Network is also starting to take an interest in "More than Gold" the Churches response to the 2012 Olympic Games in preparation for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014.

ACTS Church and Society Network

The ACTS C and S Network continues to cover a very broad agenda.  The Network continues to service and support a wide range of Associated Ecumenical groups and Bodies in Association.  Significant areas of work during 2010 have included:
  • A group looking at issues that the Scottish Gypsy "Travellers" have with the Church
  • A group looking at the War in Afghanistan - through concepts of "Just War"
  • The launch of the "Minority Ethnic Christians Together in Scotland" as a grouping of around 50 existing minority ethnic Christian groups
  • A conference on "Spiritual Care in Higher Education"
  • An exploration of Chaplaincy in the National Health Service
  • Material for the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary Elections.  This includes guidance on how to handle extremist groups (specifically those deemed to be racist) based on Methodist material.
ACTS Faith Studies Network

A booklet on the Holy Trinity which the Faith Studies Network endorsed and published and placed on the website raised significant discussion during the year.  While the members of the Network (including Roman Catholics) hope that it will be used by ecumenical and other groups to explore the issues and to improve their understanding of the place which the Trinity holds in their Churches' worship and doctrine the text has led to much anguish especially with the Roman Catholics.  This issue illustrated the difficulty in ACTS speaking with one mind on any particular issue and while generally accepted that debate is healthy it can add some tensions between denominations on specific issues.

ACTS Church Life Network

In 2010 the Methodist Church through Rev John Butterfield took on the Convenorship of the Church Life Network.  The "Back to Church Sunday" initiative continues to be one aspect of this Network's work as does the material on the ACTS website for "A Quiet Day for Scotland" 2010.  The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity took as a theme for 2010 the centenary of the 1910 World Missionary Conference and this Network engaged in the production of this material.  A new Associated Ecumenical Group to this network is the "Scottish Churches Disability Action Group" which had its launch in 2010 and is starting to develop an agenda for greater involvement of disabled people in Scottish Church.  John Butterfield has also been instrumental in producing through this group the Easter 2011 worship material for ACTS.
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Friday, 25 February 2011

Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS)

St.Monans Church ScotlandImage by Florian Seiffert (F*) via Flickr
This is another extract from the Methodist Church's Ecumenical Relations report for Scotland, 2010.  This post focuses upon the role of Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS). 

Through most of the year the ACTS Members Meeting managed to focus on the shared mission of the churches in Scotland, leaving the Trustees to manage the ecumenical instrument.  However, with the re-emergence of Scottish Churches House financial crisis later in the year the focus of both the Trustees and members meeting returned to resolving the SCH issues.

Significant mission initiatives supported through the year included:
  • Edinburgh 2010 (with the secondment of the ACTS General Secretary)
  • Various events around a visit from the World Council of Churches Executive Committee
  • Back to Church Sunday promotion
  • A conference on "Working with Children in the Church Community"£
  • A conference on "The Spiritual Journey in old Age"
  • A conference to discuss "Spiritual Care in higher Education"
  • Training for Congregational Disability Champions
  • The launch of the Minority Ethnic Christians Together in Scotland (MECTIS) an association of around 50 ethnic minority Christian groups
  • Ecumenical Mediation and the outcomes of a Church of Scotland led Conference on "Christianity, Conflict and the Soul of the nation"
  • Arrangements for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Scotland
  • Early preparation for the Churches response to the Scottish parliamentary elections in 2011
  • The development of networks across the churches to support "Pilgrim Paths"
  • The "Quiet Time for Scotland" initiative - a time for prayer around St Andrews Day
  • A review of ecumenism in Scotland using the Australian Churches Covenanting Together process and facilitated with "Quaker" style clerking.
In a very busy year, due to Edinburgh 2010 and the ongoing crisis with Scottish Churches House, the ACTS staff have done stalwart work in supporting all these new initiatives alongside servicing the 4 Networks and a wide range of Associated Ecumenical Groups.

We'll take a look at the 4 Networks in a future post.
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Thursday, 24 February 2011

The Methodist Church in Scotland Ecumenical Relations Report 2010

This is the first of five extracts from the Methodist Church's Ecumenical Relations Report for Scotland.  The author is Dr Bill Reid, who is responsible for ecumenical relations in the Scotland District.  More information about Scotland's ecumenical relations can be found on the Methodist Church website.

2010 has been a year of significant anniversaries for the Churches in Scotland.  As well as being the 450 anniversary of the Reformation in Scotland, the year has also included the 100 anniversary of the 1910 Mission Conference held in Edinburgh (credited with initiating the Ecumenical Movement) and the 50 anniversary of Scottish Churches House.  These three anniversaries highlight both great progress made in ecumenical relationships but also the inherent challenges we all still face in serving Christ together in today's Scotland.

The Reformation in Scotland
Much of the commemorations to mark the 450 years since the Reformation were understandably led by the Church of Scotland engaging in key services, conferences and other events with the Roman Catholic Church, the Scottish Episcopal Church and civic society.  These events were well managed and at times moving but seemed to make little impact on our wider society.  It is worth noting that for some of us it appeared the other denominations in Scotland were marginalised in many of these events.  Also with such a close focus on what took place in Scotland 450 years ago  the opportunity to see "Reformation" as an ongoing process across the nations rather than an event was largely lost.  That said the reaffirmation of Baptismal vows shared between the leaders of the three denominations illustrated how much progress has been made in their relationship in recent years.

1910 Mission Conference

On the world stage Edinburgh 2010, a conference entitled "Witnessing to Christ Today", was initiated by the World Council of Churches to celebrate the "Great Mission Conference of 1910".  Whereas the Conference of 1910 was largely attended by white male reformed church ministers and missionaries, Edinburgh 2010 was far more inclusive bringing delegates from all over the world to Edinburgh.  Initially planned for over 1000 delegates the final number was nearer 200 (largely through planning and financial constraints).  It was very pleasing to see people of many races (women and men) and from a broad spectrum of theologies including catholic, orthodox and evangelicals.  The main focus was on an academic conference which somewhat disappointingly did not engage with the wider church let alone society in general.  That said much of the Conference was transmitted on the internet.  The highlight for many was the closing worship when over a thousand shared in a joyous almost 3 hour events in the Church of Scotland General Assembly Hall on 6 June.  If the energy that was generated that afternoon could be replicated across Scotland our churches would not be struggling for membership.

Scottish Churches' House

Closer to home for the Methodist Church in Scotland is Scottish Churches' House (SCH), in Dunblane, where we currently have our offices.  SCH dates back beyond 1950 when a large number of then relatively young Christians worked together to establish and refurbish the House out of various properties that came together from various sources.  SCH became the main focus for ecumenical action in Scotland and has been loyally supported over the years.  The founding of the House was celebrated on 17 July with several of those involved at its outset still supporting the House at what was a joyous occasion.  Sadly, although a major refurbishment has recently been completed and SCH still attracted its loyal supporters the user base had continued to age and decline to such a point that the new Charity being set up to run the House judged that its current operation is no longer viable.  As a result of ongoing financial loss the trustees of Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS) have decided to cease its current operation on 16 July 2010 but rather than sell the SCH properties immediately has invited tenders to rent the House from ACTS and run it a way compatible with the ACTS objectives.  So while the future of SCH is uncertain we should pray that a fresh vision for it emerges over the next few months.  We should also hold in our prayers at this difficult time the staff and supporters of the House who have contributed so much to its success and continued witness over more than 50 years.
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Wednesday, 23 February 2011

New Housing Group visits Milton Keynes

Ecumenical Church of Christ the CornerstoneImage via Wikipedia
This is from the latest edition of CTE News.

The new city of Milton Keynes is 40 years old. How has the ‘church’ engaged with ‘new housing’? Are there specific lessons from MK for the wider church? Some members of the Churches Group for New Housing Areas thought that it would be good to visit, listen, reflect and write - even if for short time and in a small area.

MK still expanding
MK is 40 years old but still expanding greatly. The 237k population is projected to be 400k. The main areas of new housing growth are on the east and west sides of the city. Ross Northing, Vicar of the established town of Stony Stratford at the north end of MK, is also Rector of Calverton, a hamlet of 150 souls with a medieval church. The projected new population here is 16,000 and the new housing area will be larger than the old town.

Sense of identity
We heard that many people living in MK have a strong sense of identity with MK as a ‘good place to be’. People frequently move house e.g. 4 times in 7 years, but it often within MK itself. MK ‘identity’ and ‘networks’ across the city are important (more than in the local grid squares). The church also has strong networks across the city: eg ‘Bridge-builders’ in schools; Environment Group; Homeless care etc. Although the sense of identity with MK is strong, issues of mobility and commitment make ‘building community’ difficult (see later).

New church buildings
In response to the enormous housing programme of the 70’s and 80’s, a large number of shared church buildings were built with community facilities. Often sponsored by several denominations, they were LEP’s (Local Ecumenical Projects or Partnerships). We visited ‘Christ the Cornerstone’ (illustrated) in the city centre, and heard: ‘We cannot replicate the church planting of the 1980’s with the resources we have now. We are very grateful for all that has been given in the past and need to ‘up the act’ of our congregation to reach out to new areas now’.

Changed worldview
MK was designed with a modernist 1960’s view – which has changed. ‘Our major issues are the changing social environment, the un-churched, changing ecumenical scene, the new vision of living responsibly, economic pressures and the impetus of ‘how to be church?’, says Mary Cotes, Ecumenical Moderator for MK. ‘We are engaging in Fresh Expressions and pioneer ministers and the question of new church buildings is both yes and no. The idea to re-enact the 60’s/70’s master plan “no”, but new independent churches and ethnic churches may say “yes” as renting community buildings: some have sought land in new build areas’.

Nature of the congregation changed
‘The nature of the congregation has changed dramatically’ says James Cassidy who has returned to the same RC church as parish priest for a second time. ‘The Population in the 1980’s was fairly homogeneous - but now we have 47 nations represented at Mass. The transient population was illustrated when I found that only 12 families remembered me when I returned in 2002’.

People in MK move house by a factor of 40% more than in other parts of the country. Last summer 30 Primary Schools had vacancy for Head, and a family centre built in April 2010 is already looking for its second manager. This issue of high mobility raises lots of problems for continuity, especially for volunteer based organizations like the church trying to provide outreach facilities.

Another challenge is the geographical spread and ‘lack of consistency’ of people for regular commitment. ‘Consumerism means that people want things provided for them, without much personal cost and commitment’. People respond to one off events rather than ongoing activities. In addition, women’s roles have changed; many families cope with issues of separation; ‘the car is key’, and local activities suffer when people travel elsewhere to get what they want – which is another challenge for a new local church congregation.

Schools and church
A major theme we heard was the importance of schools and church working together on new estates. Schools seemed generally keen for this and appreciated the voluntary help of Christians in many capacities. The Watling Valley Ecumenical partnership, for example, has good working relationships with every school in their area. We visited ‘Christ the Sower’ school and heard about ‘partnership’, from the chaplain Nick Adlem.

We kept hearing about the importance of partnership and inter-agency work and networks, especially for children’s, school, family and church work, but also for Local Authorities, planners. We heard examples, eg Age UK, the Parks and Police. This raises questions of personnel, and the capacity for many Christians who feel called to create community with the pressures of ‘mobility’ and ‘commitment’ above.

‘Going with the flow’
‘Capacity’ raised the question of ‘following the organic’ growth. Good working relationships lead to networks and partnership which are mutually beneficial, but may mean developing activities which did not fit a previous plan or intention - often leading to a change of direction. This can be good, but providing ‘consistency’ can be difficult.

Making the most of given resources
We heard of St Giles Tattenhoe - a very small ‘box pew’ 1540’s chapel with no electricity until 2007, which stood in open fields with a local population of 12 people, until surrounded by new housing. A church planting group had previously met in the training room at Morrison’s supermarket as part of the Watling Valley Ecumenical Partnership. After several years St Giles church now has regular congregations offering a range of worship opportunities.

Ongoing questions we heard from local church leaders:
  1. How do church, school and community networks fit in the ‘current ‘big society’ agenda?
  2. How can the worship reflect the diversity of people present?
  3. Partnership is key: but how can it be sustained in a mobile population?
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Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Church Leaders to ask David Cameron to Pledge to Close the Gap

This article from the February 2011 edition of CTE News builds on a great deal of ecumenical work addressing poverty.  Some have been reported on this blog, see the links below.  There is also a report of this event on Praxis.

On 31 January, church leaders of all denominations gathered in Westminster and made a public Pledge: that their churches will spend the next three years working to tackle UK poverty and inequality.

At the start of Poverty and Homelessness Action Week, national leaders from all the UK’s largest denominations were at 10 Downing Street, accompanied by MPs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty, and representatives of the charity Church Action on Poverty.

They handed in a letter to David Cameron, expressing their commitment to Close the Gap between rich and poor, and asking about the Coalition Government’s plans to do the same. In the letter, they say:

As Christians in leadership positions within our respective denominations and organisations, we consider it is our duty to speak up on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable – especially at a time when they are suffering the consequences of the economic crisis and public spending cuts…

We understand the many pressures you are under, and that the Coalition is committed to reducing the public deficit over the current parliament. But tackling inequality is not something that can be put off for the ‘good times.’

We would therefore like to invite you – and your fellow ministers in the Coalition Government – to make a public Pledge to take action to close the gap between rich and poor in the UK.

The leaders who have signed the letter are:
  • Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Dudley, on behalf of the Church Urban Fund
  • Revd Sivakumar Rajagopalan, Regional Minister(Racial Justice) of London Baptist Association, on behalf of the Baptist Union
  • Paul Marriott, Chief Executive of Depaul UK, on behalf of Vincentians in Partnership
  • Frances Ballin National Executive member of the Roman Catholic National Justice and Peace Network
  • Revd Leo Osborn, President-Designate of Methodist Conference, on behalf of the Methodist Church
  • Christy-Anna Errington, Methodist Youth President, on behalf of the Methodist Church
  • Revd Frank Kantor, Secretary for Church and Society, United Reformed Church
  • Niall Cooper, National Coordinator of Church Action on Poverty
David Walker, Bishop of Dudley and trustee of the Church Urban Fund, commented: 'The God who meets us in Jesus, calls us to meet and serve each other, yet the gap between the well off and the poor has become so wide that few bridge it. Unless we work to ‘Close the Gap’, the vision of a Big Society will never get off the drawing board.'

The event marks the launch of a major three-year campaign for Church Action on Poverty: Pledge to Close the Gap. We are asking churches and Christians everywhere to follow the example of these church leaders, and make their own Pledges to Close the Gap. We’ll be offering a range of simple Pledges for people to make, in three areas: Give, Act and Pray. The campaign will go live during Poverty & Homelessness Action Week, with online Pledges at, a major publicity campaign in the church press, and Pledge actions at church events throughout the year.
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Monday, 21 February 2011

Women’s World Day of Prayer

Another item from the CTE News for February 2011:

On Friday March 4th 2011 women from around the world will celebrate the Women’s World Day of Prayer. The service has been written by the women of Chile. 'How many Loaves Have You'  is an appropriate theme for bread is eaten at every meal and is very much part of every day life. The women of Chile offer what it means to them as they share this service with us.

Jean Hackett, president of the National Committee of the Women’s World Day of Prayer Movement, said: ‘This is always an exciting day as a great wave of prayer sweeps the world, beginning when the first service is held in Tonga and continuing around the world until the final service takes place, some 35 hours later, in neighbouring Western Samoa. By then the day will have been celebrated in over 170 countries and over 5,000 services will have been held in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.’

Stretching from Peru to Antarctica, the Republic of Chile occupies a long, narrow strip of land 2,640 miles long and 110 miles wide. It is a land of incredible contrasts. It also has the highest incidence of domestic violence in Latin America and most women suffer from discrimination in some form or other. Equal opportunities are being pursued. Although organised and led by women, this is essentially a day of prayer for everybody as we demonstrate our solidarity with our sisters and brothers in other countries and all are welcome to attend. Visit the WWDP website for further information and resources, together with details of services in your area.

Friday, 18 February 2011

The Big Lunch: 5th June

The Big Lunch, Coal Aston, DerbyshireImage by Andrew Walker 36 via Flickr
Here is another item from the February edition of CT News.  The Big Lunch is a 'wild seed' of the Eden Project, who appear to be breeding dinosaurs in Cornwall.

The Big Lunch is back with a bang! This years' event is taking place on Sunday 5th June so now's the time to start planning. Go to the 2011 Big Lunch website today so that you can be the first to register your event and get a handy Organiser's Pack in the post. The packs will give you everything that you need to start planning your event, from invites and recipe ideas to badges and balloons.

If you intend to hold a big event with over 50 people and you'd like to apply for some funding to help make it possible, the Big Lottery Fund Awards for All scheme could be just what you need. Small grants are given out throughout the year to help people make a difference to their community.

There are certain requirements that you have to meet in order to apply - you must be a community or not for profit group, a Parish or Town Council, a Health body or a school - and to get funding in time for your Big Lunch, you need to get your application in soon. It would be a good activity for a Churches Together group or LEP.
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Thursday, 17 February 2011

New Leader Marks New Beginnings for The Corrymeela Community

This article from the February 2011 edition of CTE News includes news of a past President of Methodist Conference.  In the photo, Inderjit (centre) unveils a plaque, in November 2010, for the first interfaith tree in his home community, Burngreave, Sheffield.

The Corrymeela Community, Northern Ireland's leading peace building organisation, has appointed a new Leader to take it into the next decade. Following the death of its Leader and Chief Executive Dr David Stevens last May, the Community has appointed Rev Dr Inderjit Bhogal OBE, as his successor.

Kate Pettis MBE, Interim Leader of the Corrymeela Community said, "Inderjit brings to us gifts in abundance. His life's work, informed by Christian principles, has been centred on peace building and is evidenced in his commitment to the building of inter-faith relationships and to working for the achievement of racial justice. We believe our vision for the future which inspired the creation of Corrymeela is safe in his hands and we look forward to his leadership."

A Methodist minister, theologian and former President of the British Methodist Conference, Dr Bhogal has been Chief Executive of the Yorkshire and Humber Faiths Forum and United Faiths - its youth council - since 2005. Inderjit is also the Chair and founder of the much acclaimed City of Sanctuary, a national movement committed to building a culture of welcome and hospitality for people seeking sanctuary in the UK.

Of accepting the role, Inderjit said "David has left a great legacy. I am privileged to succeed him and delighted to accept his role. Diversity is much more complex now. Future peace in Northern Ireland will grow from the ability of people from many different traditions to accommodate their differences and build on their similarities. I am looking forward to life and ministry in Northern Ireland and being part of the future of Corrymeela."

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Grow Zones – get your community growing

Permacultural aspect: helping animals in a veg...Image via Wikipedia
Churches Together in England is promoting Grow Zones.  There have been many similar community gardening schemes over the years and they can be very rewarding.

How can you combine growing your own delicious food, making new friends, learning a natural growing method, and the opportunity to reconnect at a deep, spiritual level with creation? The answer is Grow Zones, a community growing project being launched through local churches across the UK.

Designed specifically with churches in mind, Grow Zones provides an opportunity to engage new people from your neighbourhood in a simple, practical project that bears on our common concern for the earth.

The idea is very simple. Someone from a local church or neighbourhood hears about Grow Zones and, with the aid of the Grow Zones kit, forms a local team. People are introduced to a natural growing method known as Permaculture and helped to redesign their gardens so they can grow more of their own fruit and veg. Each team is offered insurance as part of the package, and sets out on a series of visits, where they work on one another’s gardens to make their dreams real. The commitment is deliberately light just four mornings make up the whole course, but experience shows that deep bonds form between people, lasting friendships are made and many go on to experience and learn more.

One participant said having experienced Grow Zones: “I don’t know what it was; the sunshine, the friendship, the labour, the food, the fresh air, but my spirits were uplifted and I spent the rest of the day on a high. This morning I came downstairs and felt compelled to go out into the garden. It looked lovely.”

Start a Grow Zones Team

Would you be interested in starting a group in your area? You don’t necessarily need to have any gardening experience, all you need is to be good at organising and encouraging people. If you can gather a group of people together, the Grow Zones Kit will provide the help and resources to get you growing for your first season.

Grow Zones is a national project - supported by the Local Food fund - and a series of Christ and the Earth retreat days supports the programme. To book a retreat day and find out more about the community behind Grow Zones visit

Case study: One person’s story

I have longed to do something really positive about caring for creation. As part of the Grow Zones pilot in Bristol, and being introduced to Permaculture, I have been set on a fascinating journey that has transformed my view of the world we live in and resulted in my becoming involved in a whole set of community growing projects here in Bristol. It seems to me that reconnecting with the land, and with growing our own food, is an extraordinarily powerful means to help us reconsider how we are living and to build fresh expressions of community life. There was a sort of implicit and deep spirituality that pervaded our experience of Grow Zones here in Bristol, as if God was there among us as we worked together. As a Christian minister, I have also been concerned to express concern for creation in a way that is more than theory, or just ‘doing without’ something. It seems to me that the great biblical hope for peace and harmony in creation finds real expression in the hearts of those who join together in a project like Grow Zones.
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Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ

Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Rubens)Image via Wikipedia
Those of you who were following last week's meeting of the Church of England's General Synod, may have heard there was a debate about the Virgin Mary.  This was based upon a paper prepared by Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ.  The following article is from the Council for Christian Unity's (CCU) Bulletin.

In February 2008, General Synod requested that the ARCIC II Reports not already considered by Synod should be debated. Church as Communion came before Synod in February 2009 and Life in Christ was the subject of group work in July 2009. The debate on the remaining report, Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, took place at last week’s General Synod.

Part of the motion passed by the Synod ‘encourage(s) Anglicans to study the report with ecumenical colleagues and in particular, wherever possible, with their Roman Catholic neighbours’. Dioceses and Parishes are therefore being urged to follow up this part of the motion.

The full motion moved by The Chair of the Council for Christian Unity (The Bishop of Guildford (The Rt Revd Christopher Hill)), was as follows:
‘That this Synod, affirming the aim of Anglican – Roman Catholic theological dialogue “to discover each other’s faith as it is today and to appeal to history only for enlightenment, not as a way of perpetuating past controversy” (Preface to The Final Report, 1982), and in the light of recent steps towards setting up ARCIC III:
  1. note the theological assessment of the ARCIC report Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ in the FOAG briefing paper GS 1818 as a contribution to further dialogue;
  2. welcome exploration of how far Anglicans and Roman Catholics share a common faith and spirituality, based on the Scriptures and the early Ecumenical Councils, with regard to the Blessed Virgin Mary;
  3. request that, in the context of the quest for closer unity between our two communions, further joint study of the issues identified in GS 1818 be undertaken – in particular, the question of the authority and status of the Roman Catholic dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Anglicans; and
  4. encourage Anglicans to study the report with ecumenical colleagues and in particular, wherever possible, with their Roman Catholic neighbours.’
You can download the order paper, giving full details of the motion and amendments tabled (all of which were rejected). The motion was passed decisively, following a good quality debate, by a show of hands. The papers supporting the debate, including the text of the report, can be downloaded by clicking on these links:

GS 1818 Briefing paper by FOAG on ARCIC II - Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ
GS Misc 872 FOAG Essays on ARCIC II - Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ
ARCIC II - Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ (original text)

These papers should be used as resources for studying the report, and the Church of England’s response to it, at Diocesan and Parish level. The Briefing Paper (GS 1818) gives a very succinct and useful summary of the report, as well as setting out both its positive aspects and those areas where further work is needed. The FOAG Essays (GS Misc 872) provide an in depth discussion of major themes in the report. The essays come from the full range of perspectives from within the Church of England, and are constructively critical.

In addition, the debate itself could be used as resource. In due course a transcript will be published on the Church of England website, but the audio file of the debate (Wednesday 9th February 2011, item 18) can be downloaded.

Prior to the debate, the Right Revd Christopher Hill introduced the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Westminster, the Right Revd George Stack, who presented a perspective form the Roman Catholic Church, in which he emphasised Pope John Paul II’s call for further study and discernment on the Blessed Virgin Mary. The audio file of Bishop George Stack’s address and Bishop Christopher Hill’s response can be downloaded.

Here are some suggestions for following up the motion in the Dioceses:
  • Make the General Synod Motion known to the senior staff of the diocese (a copy of the motion will also be sent to Diocesan Secretaries) for them to consider how to follow it up;
  • Approach your counterparts in partner Churches (especially the Roman Catholic Diocesan Ecumenical Officer) to discuss how the report may be studied ecumenically at intermediate and parish level.
  • Encourage parishes and deaneries, in which you are aware of a good relationship with Roman Catholic parishes, to study the report together. Remember that our other ecumenical partners may be keen also to participate.
  • A number of dioceses have successfully held study days with Roman Catholic colleagues. If you are interested in finding out more how they have approached this, please contact me.
  • At parish level, where relationships are developing well, considering issues where there are significant differences between churches, requires careful handling. The principles of Receptive Ecumenism are important here. Where there is respect, generosity and the willingness to listen and learn, such conversations can be very rewarding. If any of you have had particular experience of facilitating such conversation at parish level, it would be good to hear from you, in order to flag up examples of good practice.
Finally, here are details about ARCIC III, the areas it will cover, and details of its Anglican and Roman Catholic members.

It would be interesting to hear from Methodists who are involved in these or similar conversations.  If you are interested in participating, the place to start would be to contact your Diocesan Ecumenical Officer.
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Monday, 14 February 2011

New Ecumenism

Benutzer:dapete and Benutzer:Ezrimerchant shak...Image via Wikipedia
This is an appeal for information.  There is a request from members of the Connexional Team for news of New Ecumenism, that is Methodist Churches working in partnership with new churches. 

Examples of new churches might include be the Pioneer Networks, independent or house churches and of course Fresh Expressions.  We would also be interested to hear of  partnership working with churches not traditionally involved in ecumenical work, such as the black majority churches. 

If you have any accounts, send them to the Assistant Ecumenical Officer.  Suitable stories will be circulated amongst ecumenical staff on the team.  There is a possibility, with the senders' agreement, to feature these stories on Methodist Ecumenical News.  If that is a possibility, it would be good to have some photos or videos too.
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Friday, 11 February 2011

Sharing Agreements

Luton: High Town Methodist Church (1) This is ...Image via Wikipedia
Although Sharing Agreements are governed by the Sharing of Church Buildings Act 1969, which applies in England and Wales but not Scotland, they are still a useful way of enabling churches to work collaboratively. They are, although unincorporated, recognised within the law of the land. This enables the rites of the participating denominations to be practiced even where the Trusts on which the premises are held would not otherwise allow this. 

In a Single Congregation Partnership, there will usually be a Sharing Agreement alongside the Local Ecumenical Partnership (LEP) constitution. However, there are some churches where there is a Sharing Agreement alone. This, Shared Building Partnership, is still regarded as a LEP but it is where two or more denominations share the premises but conduct independent services. This model may be particularly helpful where a Roman Catholic or Orthodox Church is sharing premises although a CCP agreement might serve just as well.

A Sharing Agreement:
  • allows money from another denomination to be spent on Model Trust premises or Methodist Model Trust money to be used for a non-Methodist building;
  • allows a minister on the premises to carry out those rites and practices which would be permitted on premises belonging to their own church;
  • allows the churches to agree who is responsible for management of the premises, see SO 611;
  • permits weddings to be conducted on the shared premises, assuming other legal constraints are acknowledged.
Recently the method for approval of new Sharing Agreements has changed for the Methodist Church.  This has come about through the development of a Consents website for new property schemes.  More work needs to be done on this website, after which the new method will be simplified, but the new interim arrangements are fairly straightforward.

So, the ecumenical section of the Methodist Church website has an overview of Sharing Agreements, how to initiate them and terminate them.  For details about how to initiate a Sharing Agreement, go to the guidelines for the Consents database.
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Thursday, 10 February 2011

District Ecumenical Officers' meeting, February 2011

Toolbox FullImage by Austin ampersand Zak via Flickr
The Methodist Church in Britain has a network of District Ecumenical Officers (DEOs).  They work alongside of other denominational ecumenical officers, and the County Ecumenical Officers, to support churches developing ecumenical work.

Their work varies from place to place and person to person but one role they have everywhere is to help with the technical toolbox for ecumenical work, such as constitutions and Sharing Agreements.  Each tradition has its own rules and so it can be helpful to have someone on the ground who knows what they are!  But the DEO role is much wider, they are there to support churches and to encourage new developments.

Most Districts have at least one DEO.  As Districts usually cover more than one county, some of them appoint a DEO for each County. 

It is worth contacting your DEO if you are thinking about:
  • starting a Local Ecumenical Partnership
  • forming a Sharing Agreement, for shared premises
  • starting a Churches Together Group
  • contemplating collaborative work with other traditions, where you want to explore the possibilities.
Today, is the annual meeting for District Ecumenical Officers.  Each year, DEOs have two opportunities to meet.  One in the autumn is usually a joint meeting with Church of England Diocesan Ecumenical officers (and occasionally denominaitonal officers from other traditions) and the other is a Methodist only meeting in the spring.  This latter is an opportunity to catch up on new developments nationally and locally.  Usually, there is a speaker on a topic chosen by the DEOs in the autumn.  This year, they asked for an opportunity to share stories and identify some of the issues they are facing.  About 18 DEOs will be meeting with officers from the Methodist Church and some of our ecumenical partners.
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Wednesday, 9 February 2011

21st Century Evangelicals

The Evangelical Alliance and Christian Research have recently published a groundbreaking research report, 21st Century Evangelicals: a snapshot of the beliefs and habits of evangelical Christians in the UK.

Over 17 000 Christians, not all evangelicals, completed the questionnaire to inform this fascinating report.  The report explores the distinctive beliefs of evangelicals compared with other Christians.  The Evangelical Alliance on its website states:

This is the first in a series of groundbreaking reports which will paint a comprehensive and detailed picture of evangelicals in the UK at the beginning of the 21st century. This picture will be an invaluable asset to church leaders and Christian organisations as it provides encouragement, presents challenges, guides reflection and stimulates discussion. And it is critical as we look to the future. By presenting an accurate picture of evangelicals today, we can be much better equipped to make effective plans for tomorrow.

We're doing everything we can to make this report widely available. It can be viewed online, it can be downloaded and it's available as a printed booklet. If you're involved in church leadership, make sure everyone in your church's leadership team takes a look at this report and then spend some time discussing some of the questions this research raises. There are a few discussion questions in the report, and more are available online.

In the months to come we are going to delve deeper in order to understand more fully the beliefs of evangelical Christians and how these beliefs impact their lives. We'd be delighted if you were willing to be part of this exciting research.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Orthodox Churches in the UK

The Orthodox Churches in the UK have until recently functioned in relation to their parent churches, most having accompanied people as the immigrated to Britain.  This has meant there has been a number of Orthodox Churches in Britain, relating to Bishops overseas.

These churches are trying to bring practice into line with doctrine.  The Orthodox Church is one, yet they have parallel jurisdictions among their diaspora in the UK.  An important start is the United Assembly of Orthodox Bishops in Britain and Ireland, bringing all together, working towards being one jurisdiction, though this will take time. It will be better for the Orthodox and also better for their ecumenical relationships.

Recently, the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies has developed an Orthodox 'Alpha' type course, The Way, launched in October 2010.  It uses the basic Alpha idea of meal, presentation, discussion.  More information can be found on their website.

THE WAY builds on the understanding of social dynamics and the importance of human relations in transmitting the faith as shown in courses such as Alpha. However, its understanding of key issues is Eastern Orthodox, its emphasis is sacramental, and it integrates teaching with worship.

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Monday, 7 February 2011

Interchangeability of Ministry

The Tom Moreland Interchange in DeKalb County,...Image via Wikipedia
The third theological question raised at a recent meeting of National Ecumenical Officers is: where may interchangeability of ministers be found?

There is a distinction between shared ministry and interchangeability of ministry.  Shared ministry is where one tradition helps out another, but the original tradition still has pastoral responsibility.  With interchangeability, the traditions would be able to collaborate over the deployment of ministers.

Theoretically there is interchangeability between the Methodist, United Reformed and Baptists churches.  All the primary issues have been addressed and agreed but in practice it doesn't happen because secondary criteria make sure it doesn't.

It seems that as first order questions are addressed, the second order questions become first order.  Interchangeability, even in the world Methodist communion, tends to be blocked by erection other criteria.

So, what do we mean by interchangeability?

Please comment on this issue, as it is currently under discussion and your views might swing the balance!  All comments will be passed to relevant people and views from a local perspective are particularly welcome.
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Friday, 4 February 2011

Formal Ecumenism, Fresh Expressions and the New Churches

An important piece of work currently under development is the Joint Anglican Methodist Working Party on the Ecclesiology of Emerging Expressions of Church (JAMWPEEEC). 
One theological question they are addressing is, when does something that is an expression of Christian action become a church?  When should it be treated as a church and indeed treat itself as a church? 

Many new churches currently have no link with formal ecumenism, or understanding of its history or purpose.  There is no established link between fresh expressions and ecumenism.  The tendency is for each to talk internally amongst people who agree with each other.

The situation is complicated because the churches differ in their understanding of what they mean by church.  So, the Orthodox understanding of the Church, for example, means that to them all churches with the possible exception of the Roman Catholic Church are fresh expressions!  Ecumenists in all traditions need to find a way to move beyond presenting a view and discuss this question. 

The discussion is currently very imbalanced and we are failing to create an ecumenical space for the necessary conversations to take place.  This also means resources need to be found for these conversations.

This is the second of three theological issues identified at a recent meeting of National Ecumenical Officers.  They are all red hot issues, as yet unresolved.  So, please add your comments, particularly if they relate to how you experience this issue locally.  Comments will be passed to the relevant people.
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Thursday, 3 February 2011

Unity in Oversight

At a recent meeting of National Ecumenical Officers, a number of theological issues engaging ecumenical conversations were highlighted.  In this and two further posts I will outline these issues.  These are currently live issues, which means they have not been resolved.  So, any comments you make will be passed to relevant people for their consideration.

The issue of shared episcope has been on everyone's agendas for many years.  The Anglican Roman Catholic conversations (ARCIC) have come up with the term 'unity in oversight' which at least dispenses with the Greek!  Oversight is the term used by the churches to describe how authority is exercised within the traditions.  So, in episcopal churches, oversight is exercised through the Bishops, whilst in connexional churches it is exercised through Conference (illustrated).

If accountability is one end of a spectrum; is the other end complete independence? There is a need to identify the different points on the spectrum of the ways in which churches relate to each other.

So, what do we mean by 'unity in oversight'?  Basically, it is concerned with common decision making that remains true to faith in the current age.  This applies equally to churches with a strong liturgical tradition and those with a mission agenda.

In formal bilateral and multilateral conversations, difficulties are often encountered because those involved are shaky about how decisions are made in their own traditions.  Sometimes, where issues such as sexuality challenge internal cohesion, further difficulties are experienced between traditions.  Where there are tensions within a particular tradition, it can become difficult to address matters to do with the historic episcope (where the authority of Bishops is traced back to the original apostles) because there is no agreed framework on which discussions can be based.

Some people have suggested a change of emphasis from the idea of 'full visible unity' to 'full visible communion'.  This is a change from organisational to organic unity. Problems are encountered when these are confused.

It would be good to hear your views on unity in oversight, particularly where it impacts upon relationships between local churches. 
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Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Safeguarding Update

One notable area of collaboration between the Methodist Church and the Church of England is over safeguarding.  A paper presented to Methodist Council in January 2011, updates this collaboration.  Here are some excerpts, click on the link for the full paper:


The post of Connexional Safeguarding Adviser is a combined post with the Church of England. Elizabeth Hall took over this combined role as from 1 September 2010 following a four month period shadowing the Revd Pearl Luxon.

In addition to the Safeguarding Adviser, the two Churches jointly fund a half-time administrative assistant. The post-holder has been on long term sickness absence since September 2010. The work has been covered in-house but this absence has inevitably limited some important developments, especially website development.


The Church of England and the Methodist Church have this year been able to realise a long- term aim of combining the committees which overview safeguarding. There is now a Joint Safeguarding Liaison Group, chaired jointly by the Revd David Gamble and Bishop Anthony Priddis (the safeguarding lead in the C of E House of Bishops). This group meets annually. During the year the business is carried out by two sub-committees focusing separately on Vulnerable Adults and Children & Young People – they meet three times with the facility for further meetings if required. The Terms of Reference are attached for approval. This document is also being submitted to the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England.


In November 2010, the Church of England and the Methodist Church held a combined launch for a suite of revised and new safeguarding policies. In the Methodist Church, these now form the new Safeguarding Handbook. The contents are:
  • Safeguarding Children and Young People (final draft approved by Methodist Council, March 2010)
  • Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults (final draft approved by Methodist Conference 2010)
  • Recruiting Safely. This was approved in outline by the Methodist Conference 2010, but it was recognised that it can only be an interim document given the Coalition Government’s very late suspension of the Vetting & Barring Scheme. The document has been published as a web resource only. It should be printed off and inserted into the Handbook.
  • Guidelines for working with Domestic Abuse / Violence. These were produced to support the Methodist Conference 2005 report ‘Taking Action’ but never widely circulated. They have been updated and are now included alongside the other safeguarding resources.
  • Model policies for church, circuit and district level.
For details of safeguarding and Local Ecumenical Partnerships, check out this post from last July.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Learning to be Church Together

I suppose this is not news but it is a helpful though limited resource, for those who are interested in recent thinking about ecumenism.

During January 2009, over two years ago, I attended a conference, held by the Centre for Catholic Studies at Ushaw College in Durham, Receptive Ecumenism and Ecclesial Learning: Learning to Be Church Together.

Receptive Ecumenism, not be confused with Ecumenical Reception, an entirely different thing, is an idea that has been developed by CCS since a first conference held in 2006.  Details of this conference and the resulting, very expensive, publication can be found at the link at the start of this paragraph.  They define Receptive Ecumenism, as follows:
The essential principle behind Receptive Ecumenism is that the primary ecumenical responsibility is to ask not “What do the other traditions first need to learn from us?” but “What do we need to learn from them?” The assumption is that if all were asking this question seriously and acting upon it then all would be moving in ways that would both deepen our authentic respective identities and draw us into more intimate relationship.
The  helpful resource is some recordings and transcripts from the 2009 conference are online.  Much of this material is specialist and so the inclination seems to be to lock it up in expensive books.  Putting this material online opens up the debate to many more readers and so I would encourage CCS to put more transcripts online.  I can't imagine they make a fortune out of selling the books and it is a pity so few people are able to find out about, let alone have access to, the material they need to get to grips with the subject.
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