Churches gather to discuss a new ecumenical future
Some 300 representatives from the major Christian denominations in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales gather in Swanwick, Derbyshire, this week ñ for what could be the last Assembly of its kind held by the official ecumenical body Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI).
CTBI, formerly the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland, was established in 1990 alongside ecumenical bodies in each of the nations. The impetus began with the Popeís historic visit to Britain in 1982 and developed into the idea of ëcreative spaceí to sustain more effective cooperation between Anglican, Catholic, Free Church, Black Majority and Orthodox Christians.
The new ecumenical bodies succeeded the rather better known British Council of Churches. But financial pressures on historic denominations, plus the changing nature of mission in a fast-moving world, has led to renewed debate about the best ëarchitectureí to support inter-church relations and social engagement in the twenty-first century.
As a result, church representatives at Swanwick could this week end up drawing a line under existing structures, including the CTBI Assembly, and establishing the basis for creating new ones.
The difficulty seems to be that there are several versions of what a better ecumenical future might look like, ranging from minimal networking through to more organised forms of common witness. The churches also have different notions of unity, ranging from those who think in more structural, ëorganicí terms ñ to those who want an acknowledged ëcommunion of differenceí.
ìThis Assembly will be a unique meeting place for Christians of all shapes, sizes and opinionsî, one delegate told Ekklesia. ìBut at the same time we have to recognise that the agenda for Christian involvement in Britain and Ireland is changing very quickly indeed. So as well as consolidating the best of what we have in our inherited traditions, we need to be open to fresh expressions of church life which could challenge our perceptions of the next steps we take together.î
The overall theme of the CTBI Assembly is pilgrimage, and in an attempt to prevent things becoming too locked into discussions about future structures, the agenda is organised around prayer and worship, biblical reflection, a large workshop programme focussing on Christian witness and action across the globe, and a ëmarketplaceí for church agencies and initiatives.
Ekklesia, the UK theological think tank, is co-sponsoring a workshop on ëfaith in the global economyí together with the United Reformed Church, the Church of Scotland, the Union of Welsh Independents and the CTBI Churchesí Commission on Mission. This will focus on the 2004 Ghana declaration on justice in economic and environmental relations.