Friday, 30 September 2011

The Last Post?

The-last-post any one for tennis?Image by johnb/Derbys/uk via FlickrWith regret, this will be my last post for Methodist Ecumenical News.  I leave employment with the Methodist Church today and there will not be a successor until January at the earliest.  Even then there is no guarantee the blog will be continued.

Exploring Ecumenism

So, first of all thank you to everyone who has read posts on this blog.  There are very few blogs about ecumenism, even if you search globally, and so this has been an interesting experiment.  I have a personal blog, Exploring Ecumenism and you can follow my posts to EE on my Twitter account (@SissonsCJ).  I haven't posted since early August but these days I tend to work at it in fits and starts - I promise to start posting again soon!

I intend to review EE, so that it covers some of the ground on this blog.  EE is more theological and speculative, whilst Methodist Ecumenical News has covered events, often in a fairly clinical way.  So, I hope to pick up some of the ground covered on this blog but I will mix with comments and reflections, more than I have on this blog. 

Methodist Ecumenical News - a brief evaluation

So, what has Methodist Ecumenical News achieved?  I have been encouraged by the followers on Twitter who now number over 120, with a few joining each week.  Most of these are Methodists, which is encouraging.  (The blog was always seen as an experiment and my hope is to see its rebirth as 'Ecumenical Ecumenical News'!)  I expected establishing the blog to be slow because (broadly) ecumenists seem not to be much interested in blogging and bloggers don't seem to be terribly interested in ecumenism.  (This may be an age related phenomenon.)

For example, Methodist Ecumenical News has received very few comments, despite the number of visitors (about 20 000 over its life and 63 views yesterday (and 50 today (Thursday) by 12.30pm).  I was hoping for a community of readers but people read and don't comment (the same applies to EE, except for radical atheists on the topic of teapots).  My other disappointment is the planned community of writers never happened.  If a few other writers had joined in, the blog would not be closing.  A number of people expressed interest but it seems the technology defeated them and I never found out what the exact problem was.

The perils of success

Ecumenism has been immensely successful over the last few decades.  Formal conversations in particular have achieved a great deal in enabling the churches to recognise one another and to work together, sharing resources and, increasingly, worship.  Paradoxically, ecumenism's success is its main barrier to progress.  Here are three examples:
  1. As churches move closer together, theologically and structurally, they often find progress becomes slower.  The reasons for this are not necessarily theological.  It is property, finance and most often organisational structures that form additional barriers, not accessible to analytical theologians.  At first sight, organisational problems may seem to be ecclesiological, indeed they are, but the barriers commonly experienced are entrenched deep in people's understanding of their own tradition.  A theological rationale to change ecclesiologies might be convincing on paper but in real life something more is needed.  The problem is, for many people ecumenism means loss of identity, being subsumed into some larger church.  We are in desperate need of models of church that allow the traditions to maintain their identity.  Ken Howcroft's post yesterday hinted at one example where this may be happening.
  2. Whilst there has been significant success in formal conversations, analytical theologians are are not good at communicating their findings with the wider church.  Papers are often written in academic language and hidden away in journals.  They cover issues that are not relevant to most people's experiences and knowledge and understanding of arcane dimensions of ecclesiology is assumed.  We need a careful analysis of how this material is communicated.  The Methodist Church experienced this problem a few years ago when, despite previous decisions taken by Conference in principle to support bishops, the decision about what sort of bishops was rejected outright.  The problem is, a decision in principle might lead logically to a decision in practice but reality doesn't follow the laws of logic.
  3. As the mainstream churches have moved closer together, we have witnessed, over the last 20 years, a large number of new churches appear, which do not participate in mainstream ecumenism.  To them the historic churches probably seem to be a monolithic block of outdated Christians, made more threatening by their mutual closeness.  The Evangelical Alliance has for a long time been an alternative to the formal ecumenical instruments and now it is arguable there is a third ecumenism of Christians who belong to informal churches and see themselves as Christians Together rather than Churches Together.
Exploring Ecumenism tries to identify how we can find a way out of the paradox that the progress we make actually creates barriers.  We desperately need a new paradigm for ecumenism, rooted in local experience, shared globally.  This is not a task for analytical theologians but for ordinary Christians everywhere.  After 8 years amongst theologians, I return to real life and it is from that perspective I will blog in the future.

PS I have added a comment to the post about the Global Digital Library on Theology and Ecumenism about its launch and its web address.
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1 comment:

  1. First: Many thanks for writing this blog over the few months since I found it.

    I wonder how strongly the need to continue a denominational tradition is actually felt. Lots of congregations have a strong desire to continue in their own building - as Presidents of Conference lamented years after Methodist Unity - but that's different.

    Three observations, none of which I am happy about:

    About 10 years ago, in her last sermon with us, a chaplain observed with regret that she had never been asked to recommend a church with good preaching, or reverent worship, or which took social justice seriously, or a denomination. She had always been asked to suggest a "lively" church. I don't think requests have changed since.

    Divisions seem to be deepening in the CofE and broader Anglican communion along Evangelical/Liberal lines (Anglican Covenant etc). The noise is about human sexuality, but I wonder if that is a useful rallying point. In many ways the dispute mirrors the long-standing division in student Christianity between Christian Union/Not-the-CU/Roman Catholic; the Evangelical Alliance already unites evangelicals across traditional denominations as well as independent churches.

    This year, our chair of district proposed that we appoint a "Free Church-Funded" chaplain of any denomination rather than require a Free Church minister, arguing that there is no specifically Free Church way of doing higher education chaplaincy.

    So are we drifting towards congregationalism, with the denominations as trainer/pension fund/ disciplinary structure? If the (usually fairly liberal) denominational structures weaken, Will liberals develop a similar federation? From this perspective, the rejection of Methodist bishops looks like rejection of a governance structure allied to a chippy objection to accepting an Anglican gift with no reciprocity. Still, I like to think that conference would agree to consecrating all superintendents.