Archbishops Rowan Williams and Vincent Nichols, Commissioner Betty Matear of the Salvation Army and the Presidents of the ecumenical grouping Churches Together in England, have welcomed Pope Benedict XVI’s visit, and expressed the hope that it will be a source of encouragement to all of the country’s churches.
In a series of effusive commendations, the denominational leaders put on a determined show of unity with the pontiff, but chose not to address directly any of the concerns and differences among Christians and those of other convictions which have been absorbing the general media for the past fortnight - and which are likely to shadow the trip, the first formal State Visit granted to the Vatican.
"As the Presidents of Churches Together in England, we welcome Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom," Archbishops Williams and Nichols declared. "We look forward to joining Pope Benedict in Westminster Abbey for the celebration of Evening Prayer, which will be a significant stage in his pilgrimage. We pray that through our celebration of Christian faith, the Church, led by the kindly light of Christ, may be renewed in its witness to the unity and hope which is Christ’s will for all people."
Other leaders from CTE’s member churches added their welcome, from the Quakers right through to the Ecumenical Patriarchate (Orthodox), the Church of God of Prophecy (a Black majority denomination) and the United Reformed Church.
Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira and Great Britain, from the Greek Orthodox Church, welcomed the visit, which he said he hopes will be part of the continuing process "…of improving relationships between those who confess the name of Christ".
British Quakers were "…glad of this opportunity for him to meet other Christians and people of other faiths," though they will have substantial differences with Pope Benedict on a range of social and religious issues.
Commissioner John Matear, the Territorial Commander of the Salvation Army, hoped that the Papal visit would help the churches to "…together proclaim the good news of the Kingdom in word and deed".
The United Reformed Church, noting the warm relationships their local congregations enjoy with Catholic congregations, said that the lead taken by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales in moral and spiritual reflection was of benefit to all.
Their General Secretary, the Rev Roberta Rominger, declared: "We pray that the Pope’s visit will energise and inspire the Church for all that lies ahead." The Rev Dr Martyn Atkins of the Methodist Church said that Methodists "…already enjoy discovering the unity we share in Christ with our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic Church" and prayed God’s blessing on the visit. The Rev Jonathan Edwards of the Baptist Union hoped that the visit would lead to a deeper understanding between Christians which "…will enable us to be more effective in reaching out with God’s love to all people."
Bishop Wilton Powell, the National Overseer of the Church of God of Prophecy said that his church extended a "cordial welcome to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI" as "a servant of the Lord with a message for this generation", a view echoed by Fr Olu Abiola, the President of the Council of African and Caribbean Churches who welcomes Pope Benedict’s stance as one who "…safeguards the integrity of the Christian faith."
The Lutheran Council of Great Britain said it was grateful "for the commitment and integrity of the Catholic Church in its dialogue with the Lutheran Communion on the global level" and prayed that Pope Benedict’s visit would enrich the lives and work of all England’s Christian churches. William Gabb of the Independent Methodist Church hoped that the visit "would stimulate many to look afresh at their faith and the person of Jesus."
The Rt Rev Dr Geevarghese Mar Theodosius, diocesan bishop of the Mar Thoma Church in England also welcomes the visit, praying that it would strengthen ecumenical relationships and help the churches respond to the great challenges of
"…poverty, population expansion, climate change, and economic stability."
CTE itself declared: "Representatives of all the member churches of Churches Together in England will be praying with and for Pope Benedict at the service of Evening Prayer in Westminster Abbey on Friday 17 September. They welcome him not simply as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, but as a fellow Christian and fellow pilgrim."
Churches Together in England was established in 1990, along with equivalent bodies in Wales and Scotland, and one for Britain and Ireland, to offer 'resourced space' for sharing between the churches on a wide range of common interests and concerns.
There are also Churches Together groups in counties, large cities, local neighbourhoods and towns.
More about CTE: http://www.cte.org.uk/