Ecumenical Formation: Cambridge Theological Federation @40

Forty years may have biblical overtones: it is certainly a significant number of years in the ecumenical journey of the Cambridge Theological Federation. It was a delight to represent the United Reformed Church and to preach at a service of celebration on the occasion of celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Federation’s journey. The service was held at Emmanuel United Reformed Church in Cambridge on November 6.

This journey which began on October 22nd 1972 saw Ridley Hall, Wesley House and Westcott House forming into a Federation, later to be joined by Westminster College in 1976. The vision of a Federation was intentional in its commitment to work together while ensuring each college retaining its autonomy and identity. Today, the Federation has grown to include Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox ecclesial traditions as well as Institutes engaging in World Mission and with relations between the Abrahamic Faith.

The Service of celebration was led by the Revd Canon Martin Seeley (President of the Federation and Principal of Westcott) with participation from students, former principals, current members of staff and members of the Federation Governing Council. The Revd John Proctor’s brief recounting of the story of the Federation embodied a humorous play on biblical images, encouragement and recognition of the challenges before the Federation. I was especially touched by his evaluation of the original vision of the Federation. He said:

“There is resilience in this vision. It has survived the challenges and changes of the years, because it is about so much more than mere expediency, than economy of scale, than the convenience of location. We travel together because we believe in it: nourished by one another, committed to doing many things more faithfully together than we could alone, discovering that Christ and his church are bigger and richer than any one of our traditions.”

I am sure that these words connected with the full congregation that came out to celebrate! These are also very timely words for the Church.

In my sermon I drew on the three readings (Habakkuk 2:1-4, I Corinthians 13:1-13 and Mark 8:17-21) to articulate the urgent need for us to commit ourselves to a vision that waits for us rather than wanting to quickly preempt God’s vision, because of our impatience with the changing circumstances around us. I also noted that while we wait on the vision and its own kairos there are at least three things we need to do: trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, and love extravagantly.

One of the activities (prepared and led by the Revd Neil Thorogood) during the service was the participation of the congregation to build a corporate picture of shared commitment of life together in the Federation by hanging leaves and fruits (paper cut-outs with thoughts and ideas) on a crafted vine across the chancel. The celebration continued with a reception that was full of lively conversations and a viewing of a small exhibition of the story of the Federation.

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