Making Ecumenism Local

By Jeff Boldt

The third Anglican–Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) resumed in Toronto May 11 with a service of evening prayer followed by discussion of the ecumenical future. ARCIC members were joined by their counterparts in the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Canada, co-chaired by the Rt. Rev. Donald Bolen, Bishop of Saskatoon, and the Rt. Rev. Linda Nichols, Bishop of Huron.

Bolen and Nichols joined ARCIC’s co-chairs, the Rt. Rev. David Moxon of the Anglican Centre in Rome and Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, for a panel discussion. Panelists discussed human sexuality only briefly. Bolen noted that the Anglican Church of Canada invited the Canadian ARC to respond [PDF] to a proposed change to the doctrine of marriage at this summer’s General Synod. The vulnerability implied by one church opening itself to the other in its decision-making is an example of what ARCIC has called “receptive ecumenism,” an approach that “seeks to make ecumenical progress by learning from our partner, rather than simply asking our partner to learn from us.”

Bolen mentioned Dom Christian de Chergé, whose policy of persevering alongside his Muslim neighbors in Algeria led to the murder of seven monks in 1996 (as depicted in Of Gods and Men). Moxon’s reference to the contemporary witness of shared martyrs gave a glimmer of an ecumenical future in which all things are held in common. When asked to articulate just what such day-to-day sharing implied, panelists reminded participants of their duty to bear one another’s burdens, to persevere together in prayer, and to share resources and buildings.

The challenge, as Bishop Nichols said, was to bring the high-minded ideals of the international dialogue down to the local level. The fruit of this vision has resulted in Did You Ever Wonder?, a video series addressing common questions people have about belief (Why is the world the way it is?, What is my mission in life?, Is suffering good for anything?, and What good is the church?).

The groundwork for this ecumenical dialogue was laid in the late 1960s and officially began in 1970 as two successive commissions (1970-82, 1983-2005) tackled divisive issues of authority, ecclesiology, morality, sacramentology, and Mariology. With the Episcopal Church’s consecration of an openly gay bishop in 2003, the international dialogue paused. The dialogue reconvened in 2011 under Moxon and Longley. According to their first communiqué, the participants decided that one of the topics of conversation would be the relation of the local to the universal Church and the way in which moral discernment is determined at these levels.

The discussion also included a prayer service led by Nichols and Bolen. Because it could not be a service of Holy Communion, the prayers began with a remembrance of our common baptism in Christ and a proclamation of the duty it places on divided Christians to live up to the full, visible unity for which Jesus prayed. Before a sermon by Bishop Nichols, the participants were reminded of the Scriptures they share and the normative role they have for the Church. The Creeds, the holiness of Mary, and the churches’ common mission to the world rounded out the three last reflections, each of which were paired liturgically with the Affirmation of Faith, the Magnificat, and the Dismissal.

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