Ecumenism that Transforms - The Living Church

Ecumenism that Transforms

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

By Zachary Guiliano and Matt Townsend

Dialogue between Anglicans and Roman Catholics should lead to transformative change within churches and the world, ecumenical leaders said at the Pontifical Gregorian University on Oct. 5.

Speakers at the meeting, “50 years of Walking Together in Faith: Exploring New Directions in Anglican-Roman Catholic Relations,” included the Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Kurt Koch. The meeting was a global gathering of 300 Anglicans, Catholics, and ecumenical visitors.

The colloquium, one of the public theological conversations in Anglican-Catholic pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome, formed a major part of the Jubilee celebrations of the Anglican Centre in Rome. The centre was founded amid renewed ecumenical energy after publication of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism in 1964.

Archbishop David Moxon of the Anglican Centre in Rome said he “celebrated … substantial agreement” between Anglicans and Roman Catholics on the Trinity, the Church as communion, the Word of God, Baptism, the Eucharist, ordained ministry, authority, Marian doctrine, discipleship and holiness, and unity in common mission.

Archbishop-elect Donald Joseph Bolen of Regina stressed that such agreements come with obligations and tasks. As ARCIC set the tone for other bilateral dialogues, Bolen said IARCCUM might also forge a path.

“These documents are not meant to remain in libraries,” Bolen said. “The documents are meant to transform our churches.”

Vigorous applause followed a talk by Nicholas Sagovsky and Anna Rowlands, “Social Theology in Anglican and Catholic Tradition.” Rowlands said the churches’ shared diagnoses of world problems, while uniting their different strengths, could lead to “new ecumenical ways of resisting” abuses of power and unjust laws, and to calls for mercy for migrant workers, the unborn, the indebted, and prisoners.

Several speakers dismissed the idea that the churches had entered an “ecumenical winter” amid disagreements about the ordination of women and human sexuality. Paul Murray preferred the image of the shifting and overlapping weather and seasons of the British landscape, as well as the changes in symphonic performance and varied musical oeuvres.

Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham spoke of a commitment to pray, and of a unity that is “greater than ever.” The obstacles have “made us more aware that the road ahead is a long one,” perhaps longer than early ecumenists imagined.

Paula Gooder noted the hope of ARCIC III that, in a mode of “receptive ecumenism,” the churches might show each other their “wounded hands” and minister to each other in their weakness and divisions. Speakers discussed specific ways of learning from one another, such as the Anglican Communion’s incorporation of laity in decision-making and the Catholic practice of providing a nuncio to represent larger Communion interests locally.

Gooder stressed that Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue has been active for her entire lifetime. She called leaders to a “recognition that this is now the norm for people [of] my generation and below.” She spoke especially of a need to recover and maintain the passion of earlier ecumenists, especially among the young.

The Rev. Étienne Vetö of the Chemin Neuf Community discussed the future of the Church, especially shifts toward the Global South, charismatic expressions and experiences, and “fluid, non-institutional, social media-style groupings.” He said the Global North will become a minority as the “third church” of the Global South becomes more important than old East-West or Protestant-Catholic divides.

“Either we’re going to work on this” independently for the future or work together, he said. He pressed leaders on the importance of the supernatural dimension of the Christian faith and the work of the Holy Spirit, especially regarding miracles, discernment, and demonic possession.

Archeparch Paul Nabil El-Sayah of the Maronite Church in Lebanon and Bishop Grant LeMarquand of the Horn of Africa discussed the challenging realities of militant Islam and the refugee crisis.

El-Sayah called violence and war “an infernal cycle that will never end.” He urged leaders to seek the experience of Eastern Christians in establishing relations with Islam. He especially charged them with ending the conflict in Syria. If war persists much longer, Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East will not be able to witness “simply because they will have disappeared,” he said.

“We forget very easily the pictures of babies dying on the shores of Europe,” or children wiping blood from their faces. “We forget, we forget those images,” he said. “The judgment of history will be very harsh on all of us.”

Bishop LeMarquand emphasized the Bible’s character as a document of migration, from Eden to the nomadic Abraham and the history of Israel, as well as in the life of Jesus. His work in Gambella, Ethiopia, and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa is mostly among churches founded by Sudanese refugees as “unintentional missionaries.”

Cardinal Koch unveiled a book, Looking towards a Church Fully Reconciled (SPCK, 2016), that gathers all the work of ARCIC II and commentary on it. “I hope this book will indeed promote the reception of ARCIC II in both the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church,” he said, so that they may “witness to the communion that we already share, and work in unity and mission to the world.” He asked leaders to pray for the members of ARCIC III.

Archbishop Welby highlighted the need for “integrity in our speaking.” After 50 years of dialogue, Anglicans and Catholics can affirm that “we love one another.” Still, we need honesty about ourselves and our differences, he said. “We do need the ecumenism of wounded hands and the ecumenism of bearing the wounds we have given each other.”

He called for great unity in the face of the world’s challenges: “If as Christians we do not learn to hang together … then we will hang separately.”

In Welby’s view, any future unity within the Church will need to be relational and not simply institutional. “If it is to be relational, it will be painful,” he said.

Any future unity must also serve the good of the world and be born of love. “At its heart, we meet here, I hope, out of love — the love that has been given to us. In love, with one another, and for love, with a broken world,” he said.

“Love that reaches out to the stranger, the poor, the migrant, the deprived, the tortured — those are the people who actually matter here.”

Welby talked of welcoming a refugee family into Lambeth Palace and how difficult he found it to speak of what he learned from that family. It has shown him the need for unity to address the great challenges of the time, he said, facing the “sin of division” and “asking the Spirit to lead us.”

In conclusion, he prayed: “What we cannot imagine, you will bring to a reality in the Church.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was among several Anglican primates attending the gathering. He told TLC that what stood out for him was the emphasis on the need for Christian unity as the basis for effective and faithful mission in the world.

“Unity for the sake of unity has no purpose. Unity for the sake of doing the work of Jesus in this world has every purpose and really matters,” he said. Curry said the Church has integrity and authenticity when working and witnessing in unity on issues of human suffering and conflict.

“That’s why ecumenism matters — not for the sake of us being able to sing ‘Kumbaya’ together. It matters so that this world can become a world where love rules.”

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