Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Inclusion and Membership

Meeting of the Global Christian Forum,  Nairobi 2007

This post is the sixth in a sequence examining some of the issues raised in a new report, 'A Review of Intermediate Ecumenical Life in England' to be published by Churches Together in England in a few weeks time.

Today, I will reflect upon inclusion and membership.  The following concludes Chapter 14:

The laudable desire to make intermediate ecumenical life accessible to all Christian bodies is not without its difficulties in terms of governance ans accountability, orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and acceptability to the existing partners on the ecumenical journey.  Discernment is needed to eradicate prejudice and cross-cultural misunderstanding and to move forwards with an expectation of mutual enrichment.  Relationships at different "levels" of ecumenical life are different and may point towards different decisions about membership being made at each level; but it is important to recognise that what happens at one level affects what happens at the other, albeit autonomous, levels.

 The report lists some of the sources of diversity of churches at the local level and this will bear reproduction here:
  • The Caribbean and African based churches have grown stronger and more numerous, often with a propensity to follow the movement of the Spirit which results in fragmentation.
  • Churches, new to this country, have arrived with new citizens from many other parts of the world;
  • Independent, evangelical / charismatic churches, mainly white-led, have grown in number and influence.
  • The increase in the strength of orthodox Churches and the increased confidence of churches of the disaffected.
  • Churches which are spin-offs from the historic denominations and claiming to maintain the integrity of the tradition.
It is interesting to look at the authority structures of these churches.  Some, are independent, some form loose alliances with like-minded churches, some have a closer union between several congregations but are small, perhaps regional, some relate to churches which are significant in other parts of the world.  The point is many, whilst significant players locally, have no national presence.  This reinforces the impression  ecumenism is about formal conversations between traditional or inherited churches.

The Global Christian Forum has created a space for evangelical and charismatic churches with a national or international presence, to enter into conversations with members of the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church.  To this extent, it seems international and local ecumenism have something in common.  However, the mix of churches in any locality may well be unique to that locality.

What are the implications?  Inevitably, it means agreements between churches nationally have less impact on the local scene.  Some of the regulations governing property, finance and ministry may seem onerous compared with the experience of freedom some local churches experience.

I suspect national church authorities will need to enter into conversations with their local churches in order to facilitate sharing of information and experiences between local churches.  This is a new era of ecumenical dialogue and local churches will find they are moving closer to the centre of ecumenical work.  One challenge they will encounter will be the need to temper their local focus by being aware of what's happening in other localities, nationally and internationally.
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