Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Technical Ecumenism

AT-AT Walker Blueprint - Star WarsImage by Vespertin via Flickr
Every so often I hear people say ecumenism is too technical.  What we need, they say, is 'light touch ecumenism'.  When we're involved in some challenging mission, the last thing we need is complicated constitutions, let alone the rules and regulations attendant upon everything the churches do (or so it seems).

The problem is churches need to collaborate for mission but with sometimes hundreds of years of separate development, their organisational structures are incompatible.

How do we deploy paid ministers to work together or on behalf of more than one tradition?
How can we use premises with a variety of legal restrictions on use for mission?
How can we be sure volunteers or churches don't become liable for financial commitments made on their behalf?

Technicalities come from a variety of places.  So. for example, there is:
  • the law of the land, eg charity legislation, health and safety, safeguarding
  • laws enforced by the state on behalf of the churches, eg Methodist model trusts or Church of England Canon Law
  • Legislation enacted by the churches through their councils, eg Methodist Standing Orders
  • Local standing orders, custom and practices, etc
All this exists before churches try to work together.  The aim of technical ecumenical is to simplify these regulations so that churches can work together safely and legally. 

Often problems arise because legislation is misinterpreted in various ways, eg
  • people take on more power than they in fact have
  • or they assume legislation is restrictive when it is in fact permissive
This last is very common.  Believe it or not, most church legislation is permissive, it allows things to be done.  Often ecumenical legislation is even more permissive.  Very little is prevented by legislation but we do need to know how to enable things to happen.  There is a network of ecumenical officers who specialise in helping local projects find their way through the legislation, use them!
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