Ecumenical Greeting Delivered by The Revd Esme Beswick MBE, President of the Churches Together in England to the 13th ACC Meeting
I would like to begin by thanking God for enabling me to stand here today in the presence of my fellow brothers and sisters, many of whom have travelled many miles.
However, we must be reminded that it is our duty as Christians here in the presence of the Anglican Communion, to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, a requirement of God our father and part of the covenant as president of the Churches Together of England, whom I represent.
As acknowledge, there has been widespread exploration of the meaning of the word ‘ecumenical’ which, has Greek origins – meaning ‘the whole inhabited earth’. As I look around me I see representatives from most of the whole inhabited earth and the richness of our diverse previous culture from which we can learn.
Ecumenism is therefore far more than Church unity it is about the culmination of our traditions through faith for disseminating the gospel to the whole world.
There are 23 member Churches Together in England (CTE) includes most if not all the major world confessions. A major shift in 1990, from being the British Council of Churches to a new ‘Churches Together’ model enabled the Roman Catholic and several Black Majority and Pentecostal Churches to join CTE and the umbrella body connecting the four nations, ‘Churches Together in Britain and Ireland’.
The thinking behind the changed name and procedures was to ensure that decision making, remained within the Churches rather than being presumed by a Council, which might become remote from the Churches. Authority has remained within the Churches.
This has increased the sense of ownership, though it means that decision-making can be more laborious. Public statements are rare and this reflects the diversity within Churches as well as between Churches, the Churches speak ‘with one voice’ less than some people would hope; this can mean that voluble non-representatives voices satisfy a thirsty media.
Much of CTE’s work is through ‘Co-ordinating Groups, which bring together those in the Member Churches who have responsibility for a particular are of work –
EVANGELISATION, HEALTH CARE, FAMILY LIFE, MINISTERIAL TRAINING, GATHERING STATISTICS, EDUCATION ….. A theology and Unity Group monitors developments and dialogues: it reflects on, for example, the notion of ‘Covenant, it is currently looking at Mary – grace and Hope in Christ.
Though most work is co-ordination, sometimes tasks are undertaken on behalf of all the Churches at their request, the most recent example of which is preparation to make the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave trade Act in 2007.
There are around 50 intermediate bodies in England, roughly the size of a Church of England diocese. In the immediate bodies the leaders of the Churches – bishops, chairs, moderators – meet and have the opportunity to reflect on the Churches’ respond to the life and social situation of their communities, to plan Church life, and to supervise local ecumenical partnerships [for example, joint congregations].
This is an emerging form of shared oversight, which is usually facilitated by a ‘County Ecumenical Officer’, full or part time.
There are about 2000 local ecumenical groups of ‘Churches Together’. Also some 800 formalised Local Ecumenical Partnerships, where there are substantial agreements about the use of buildings, forms of shared worship and pastoral care, the Church of England participates in about 500 of these.
However, I would like to acknowledge the importance of this gathering for Christian consultative purposes that can only help to foster the body of Christi, Church leaders, Theologians and Church historians, to engage in the process for bringing into context from experience, the subjects that will be discussed, here this week.