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Ecumenical Spring?

The photographs this month are from London. Tim goes out each day from his lodgings in Herne Hill (on the left and centre) from where he cycles five miles to King's College Library, in the Strand, and to the Philosophy department of the college. We meet every half-term or so, either in Herne Hill or up in Cambridge, when Tim brings his bike on the train. I have yet to take my bike down to London. Perhaps in the Spring or Summer this year and test the roads down there in the City !

It has been the annual week of prayer for Christian unity this past week. Recently I heard the new prior speaking on a programme from Taize. He mentioned that Roger Schutz in his letter last year said that the ecumenical movement had lost its impulse -

'Re-establishing communion is urgent today; it cannot continually be put off until later, until the end of time. Will we do all we can for Christians to awaken to the spirit of communion?', and quoted the words of the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius IV: "The ecumenical movement is going backwards. What remains of the prophetic event of the early days incarnated in figures like Pope John XXIII and Patriarch Athenagoras? Our divisions make Christ unrecognizable; they are contrary to his will to see us be one 'so that the world may believe.' We have an urgent need for prophetic initiatives in order to bring ecumenism out of the twists and turns in which I fear it is getting stuck. We have an urgent need for prophets and saints to help our Churches to be converted by mutual forgiveness."

It is true that Paul might have found the separated Christian churches, which are the result of the essential reforms of the 16th century (and the unfortunate break with the East in the 11th century), an intolerable nonsense. But there is a sense that 'unity', regarded as institutional comprehensiveness, is not a key note of the Christian gospel which is rather the Way of following Jesus the present, risen Lord. However, one feels that there is a crisis which has been dogging the churches since before Darwin. As one theologian put it 40 years ago -

'Any current theology ... that does not recognize and seek reflectively to deal with this presence of secularity, of doubt, of scepticism, and so of a sense of the meaninglessness of religious language inside the church as well as outside, and so inside the theologian and believer, is so far irrelevant to our present situation.'

Since before the scientific and philosophical revolution of the 18th century, the churches have perhaps failed to see that traditions which carried the church through the tumultuous Mediaeval and post Reformation period will not necessarily claim the allegiance of women and men trained to live in a different sort of world. For instance, the equality of women and men as equal in the sight of God and Christ.

That leads on to an understanding of Christian worship which perhaps went wrong in the mid-third century when there were the first signs of sacerdotalism in North African churches. It is often the so called 'secular' changes in life in the world - God's nudging us? - which carry a challenge to religious notions which need change under God, in order that they may become 'relevant' to the needs of the 98% of the population who do not worship, and who look for a reasonable account of Christian life in God's world.

© Aelred Arnesen

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