The general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Rev Dr Samuel Kobia, will seek new insights into the life and current work of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland's (CTBI) member churches in his visit to England, Scotland, both jurisdictions of Ireland and Wales at the end of this month.
Dr Kobia's April-May trip will bring the world churches' chief into contact with church leaders and workers engaged in such diverse fields as interfaith relations, work with refugees and asylum seekers, racial justice initiatives, and ecumenical theological education.
He is likely to encounter enthusiasm at the grassroots in the four nations, but tiredness in some of the official inter-church structures - which have faced cutbacks and lack of enthusiasm from some of the major churches in recent years.
At the same time, Britain Ireland has pioneered a new kind of ecumenism (cooperation among churches in seeking fresh witness and action in the world). In 1990 it brought Catholic and some Black Majority churches into a mix already including mainline Protestants, Anglicans, Orthodox and some in the evangelical constituency.
The demise of the old British Council of Churches (BCC) saw an attempt to create a more accountable and less 'activist' ecumenism. But lack of funding, lack of profile, the somewhat distanced relations of the Church of England from the WCC, and the desire of the biggest denominations to maintain their own profile as people and influence drained away in post-Christendom - these and other factors have restricted the ecumenical experiment.
Dr Kobia will stress that he is here to listen and learn, but he will also urge a vision for the future.
In the area of mission, the 2010 centennial celebration of the 1910 World Mission Conference in Edinburgh, widely considered as the symbolic starting point of the contemporary ecumenical movement, will be the focus of a visit to that city. Dr Kobia is scheduled to speak on "Edinburgh 2010" at the opening session of a planning conference for this major event.
During his trip, the WCC general secretary will be addressing several gatherings on a variety of topics including "Global migration and new ecclesial realities," "Hope and the healing of memories," and "Called to be one," and will respond to a lecture on "Prisoner abuse: from Abu Ghraib to the passion of the Christ".
The WCC general secretary will be accompanied on his visit by WCC executive committee members Mr Graham McGeoch of the Church of Scotland and Archbishop Nifon of Targoviste of the Romanian Orthodox Church, Mr Colin Ride, Conference of European Churches central committee member (and Europe secretary of the Methodist Church of Britain), and WCC staff members Ms Sydia Nduna (Migration and Social Justice) and the Rev Jacques Matthey (Unity, Mission, Evangelism and Spirituality).
The WCC has 12 member churches in the UK and Ireland. They are the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church in Wales, the Church of England, the Church of Ireland, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Presbyterian Church of Wales, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Union of Welsh Independents, the United Free Church of Scotland, and the United Reformed Church.
Three ecumenical partner organizations with CTBI - Churches Together in England (CTE), Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS) and Cytun: Churches Together in Wales - are WCC associate councils, as is CTBI itself.
The WCC brings together more than 340 churches, denominations and church fellowships in over 100 countries and territories throughout the world, representing some 550 million Christians. It includes most of the world's Orthodox churches, denominations from historic traditions of the Protestant Reformation (Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed), Anglicans - who have both a Catholic and Reformed heritage - and many united and independent churches.
While the bulk of the WCC's founding churches were European and North American, today most are in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific. It coopertaes withe the Roman Catholic Church globally, particularly n mission and unity.
DETAILED ITINERARY OF WCC VISIT TO THE UK & IRELAND
Tuesday 24 April: London
Meeting with Churches Together in England staff at CTE headquarters.
Visit to Salvation Army territorial headquarters.
Lunch with staff and guests at CTBI offices.
Wednesday 25 April: Cardiff
Morning worship at Llandaff Cathedral.
Meeting at the City Church (United Reformed Church); the church is involved in work with asylum seekers.
Kobia to address meeting organized by Cytun and its Commission for Racial Equality on the subject of global migration and new ecclesial realities.
Thursday 26 April: Cardiff
Programme being arranged.
Friday 27 April: Glasgow
Kobia to lead meditation at Iona Community's offices in Glasgow.
Friday 27 April: Edinburgh
Kobia to address opening session of 'Towards 2010' planning meeting for the 2010 centennial conference in Edinburgh (New College, Edinburgh)
Saturday 28 April: Edinburgh
Participation in the 'Towards 2010' conference.
Reception with church leaders at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.
Sunday 29 April: Edinburgh
Visit to Livingston, the oldest ecumenical parish in Scotland, in what is now a socially deprived area.
Sunday 29 April: Dublin
The Irish Council of Churches (ICC) is hosting the WCC delegation in Dublin. Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ireland, Dr Diarmuid Martin, and Anglican Archbishop Neill are providing hospitality.
Monday 30 April: Dublin
Visit to Trinity College, University of Dublin, to see the Book of Kells, one of the most lavishly illuminated manuscripts to survive from the Middle Ages.
Visit to the Irish School of Ecumenics (ISE), and meeting with staff, students and Dublin church leaders and ecumenical officers.
Kobia to deliver public lecture at the ISE on the topic of 'Reconciliation and the healing of memories'.
Tuesday 1 May: Belfast
Meeting with staff and students of Edgehill Theological College; Kobia to speak during worship at Edgehill.
Lunch with Belfast church leaders and ecumenical officers
Guided tour of Belfast.
Kobia to respond to lecture on "Prisoner abuse: from Abu Ghraib to the passion of the Christ" at the Irish School of Ecumenics.
Wednesday 2 May: Birmingham,
Kobia to address CTBI senior representatives' forum on the theme 'Called to be one' (to be confirmed)
Encounter with Birmingham faith leaders' group at their regular meeting
Thursday 3 May: Birmingham
Visit to refugees and asylum seekers.
Visit to community enterprise centre run by Sikhs.
Meeting with Black-majority church leaders.