Monday, 24 January 2011

Unity - the ignored dimension of success

Saturday night, Kath and Anto came in from their gig while we were getting ready for bed so we stayed up late and talked. I didn't think I'd make it to the eight o'clock Eucharist at Kenilworth Parish Church, but I was up and out of the house in good time. The Vicar gave the usual stock homily about the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and exhorted everyone to get out of their comfort zone and attend the evening's united service at the Methodist Church (the Parish Church would not be holding a service). It didn't inspire me to turn out, even though I was faintly curious as to how many might turn out for such a service in an English town. I noted that he reminisced about John Paul II's pastoral visit to Britain in the eighties when Archbishop Runcie and the Pope prayed together in Canterbury Cathedral, but he didn't mention Pope Benedict's visit last year - equally significant, being a state visit, something unthinkable thirty years ago. Nothing about real unity in mission to a secular civil society was mentioned or valued.

We tend to think there's been scant ecumenical progress because churches mostly remain in their institutional ruts and are bound by their habits, preferring to try and survive decline and only merge with others when this is utterly inevitable. Yet, political and social conflict in the UK using denominational allegiances as an alibi is almost a thing of the past, despite occasional dire warnings which some to come out of context and unsupported by a reality dominated by inertia and aparthy. The press make a fuss about Anglo-Catholics going over to Rome in a very public way, and even more public provision being made for their acceptance by the Pope, yet switches in allegiance of this kind have happened for the past couple of centuries in which the two churches have moved from confrontation into dialogue. 

Ecumenical (if not yet fully inter-faith) representation and participation in the life of society generally is now the accepted norm, and all sorts of contributions are quietly being made to the common good in policy formation and social, which have been forged by partnerships between Christian bodies. Cut backs may have meant fewer university, hospital, military and prison chaplains are now serving the same large constituencies, but the part they play is valued by a much broader cross-section of people without regard to denominational histories. These often seem irrelevant to pastoral work in a wholly secular environment. There has been valuable progress made on the the missionary edge of the Christian enterprise, but this seems hardly to be noticed or valued properly. 

The future of churches as the spiritual heart and soul of society is more dependent upon its performance in the everyday market place of life, much more than seems to be admitted in the domain of normal parochial life. More's the pity.

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