It was a pleasure to attend the Churches Together in England Presidents and National Church Leaders Annual Dinner last week in Lambeth Palace. The focus of the conversations was the report by the think tank Theos entitled ‘That they all may be one: Insights into English ecumenism’. This report provides a snapshot of contemporary ecumenism in England. It tells the story of how ecumenism has changed and describes a movement that is now sitting at a critical juncture as it looks to the future. You can access the report on the Theos website: https://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/publications/2017/10/03/that-they-all-may-be-one-insights-into-english-ecumenism
CTE has 45 member churches, most of which were represented at the event. Archbishop Justin Welby introduced the topic and asked us, in our table groups, to consider some of the report’s recommendations, particularly mission. Each of the six CTE presidents were allocated a table. I was on the table graced by the President nominated by the New Churches, the Religious Society of Friends (the Quakers) and the Lutheran and German-speaking Churches: The Revd Canon Billy Kennedy.
Our table talked about how and when CTE should speak with one voice (one of the recommendations) and how to instigate joint missional activities, often the result of one person’s good idea. It is this latter point I want to pick up. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with taking forward one person’s good idea, particularly if it is the result of prayer. However, I was intrigued by Billy’s account of the strategic approach adopted by several churches in the Southampton area (Billy is leader of the Pioneer Connexion and is a leader in The New Community Church in Southampton).
A number of churches and ecumenical bodies (including three local Churches Together teams) got together to focus on the wider Southampton area, with the aim of directly aligning with the Southampton Unitary Authority (SUA). This proved to be hugely significant. SUA were getting confused by all the separate churches trying to engage with them. By working together and speaking with one voice the new group was able to start a remarkable dialogue with the Authority. It started with asking the SUA what was their greatest issue. The response was fostering. Southampton were finding it very difficult to find foster parents and had over 80 children on the books waiting for fostering. The church group picked this up and were able to identify 70 individuals who were willing to be foster parents! This changed the way the Church was seen by SUA. So much so, that in January the churches group will be meeting with the SUA to discuss homelessness – at the request of the SUA. This is a great example of ecumenism in practice. Thanks be to God.