That would be an ecumenical matter part 3

So I was sat there at ‘Reception into Full Connexion’ in 2001 (A peculiarly Methodist thing that precedes the Ordination Service later that day….having sat through one in a large overheated hall that seemed to go on for several days and plumb new depths of wordiness and boredom, I am tempted to say ‘never again’). One of the many speakers from another – unnamed- denomination referred to ‘The difficulties of the ecumenical pilgrimage.’

On one level I could agree with him: any meeting with two or more organisations will produce at least 7 different opinions and 11 different non negotiables.

But then, even at my relatively naïve and inexperienced level, something he said just didn’t ring true for me. Perhaps harshly I thought- and have thought even more so in the ensuing years: It is only difficult because of people like you- who are risk averse and regard good leadership as keeping everyone happy. I have also come to realise the feeling of security of having long meetings in closed rooms that achieve almost nothing.

‘Pilgrimage’ is a journey; it may have slow points, but it does involve movement. The word should never be used- as it often seems to be used in these formal settings- to mean ‘staying in the same place’ or as a way of sanctifying intransigence/doing nothing. Sometimes there is a kind of ‘theological sophistry’; using ‘holy’ words to cover things rather than ‘saying it like it is’. How about sometimes saying ‘We talked, but couldn’t agree. This is not a good situation to be in’?

Because, the ‘ecumenical pilgrimage’ has its moments locally, but if it is focussed around mission is generally not as difficult as the speaker suggested. It is when it is focussed around doing very little or having open ended conversations nationally that become painful in their slowness and difficulty. After many many years of talking for major denominations to not have even recognised each other’s ministry or sacraments is tragic….and most times I am in a big meeting hearing lengthy reports about, well nothing, the only saving grace is that I can catch up with cricket/football scores on a smartphone….

Bits and pieces

bits and pieces

Today is a ‘bits and pieces day’: the day before a long holiday (and don’t worry kiddies- eager followers have the pure joy, by the miracle of wordpress of a post everyday on this blog. Let merriment be unconfined!). A day of lists and some good feeling of ‘closure’: albeit temporary.

Some observations of where things are at here:-

—-In most ways I like it here. This is a place of connections. I was doing a sleepover this weekend and a volunteer for Youth for Christ laughed when he realised the multiple community roles people here had. He then said wistfully ‘I would like to live in a place like this’. Yesterday when I dropped my car off, I asked the mechanic for some advice on playing minor barre chords on the guitar. ‘I’m learning the guitar’. ‘I know you are’ he said….and then dropped my car back at my house- I did not tell him my address….

—- I can’t imagine moving and entering into the hell that is the Methodist stationing system. I don’t know how much I see myself as a ‘traditional Methodist minister’ anymore. Someone said to me in the pub last week ‘You don’t mind me saying: but you don’t seem like traditional clergy do you?’ I was suprised at that. I want to be ‘Rev’ but heavily involved in one community- not exclusively stuck in a church or becoming a kind of ‘church manager’ over several locations.

—- Having said that, I can imagine doing something else for a few years and attempting to plant something/do something more incarnational which may lead to a worshipping community.

—- My kids feel connected and part of something. That makes me happy. I wish we/they could be more connected in a church/Christian community.

—- Frustration. The way forward is to do something more ‘discipleship based/community formation based’. At the moment, even the most ‘innovative’ things I do are ‘attractional’. This is a weakness of church culture and a weakness in me. There are roots here- have I the courage and ability to develop them?

—- Deep Frustration. Traditional ecumenism is slowly killing me. It is focussed around ‘how can we agree/get on’ and not around mission questions. I don’t go with the trad evo view of ecumenism to be avoided and do your own thing as that seems just like buying into a culture of individualism. However I find it draining to meet intransigence, ‘eucharistic exclusion’ and a reluctance to engage heartily with a world where God is alive and active but which our traditional churches are not touching.

Overall on a scale of happy/not happy, I am ‘quite to very happy’. ‘Happy’ is not the right word- perhaps ‘Generally hopeful’ is better. This disturbs me. I used to be more angsty…..

…isn’t ‘ecumenism’ a boring concept?

Don’t get me wrong…. I love it when churches work together. My biggest issue is that a lot of ecumenism I have encountered has been about doing as little as possible that might threaten ‘my’ way of doing things (and this is most often unconsciously). I’ve also found that it tends not to have an outwards focus; it’s been about ‘understanding each other’ and not with the aim of blessing others who may think we are irrelevant…. All of this of course is IMHO…

bored

Rant over (nearly)… I’ll just ungrind my teeth….. don’t get me started on ‘we welcome you and love you…but can’t share communion with you…or we can, but it won’t be proper, it will be Methodist’…….grrrrr…. calm down…… nurse will see you soon…..

I spent 5 blessed and happy years in Colwyn Bay… my kids were born there…. it was my first experience of full time ministry. In fact…. as we were ‘ripped’ from there, I seometimes still wish that I was still there…… If heaven is finer than sitting outside Nino’s in a sunny Rhos on Sea, sipping a latte and watching the sea it must be pretty damn special.

During my time there it was a privilege to connect with people from all across the Christian spectrum and it was a reminder that ecumenism was not just about connecting with denominations who are as boring or more boring than we are (I think I might have used a tadge of ‘humour’ there. If you didn’t pick it, google the word ‘humour’…).

In particular, some lovely, crazy people (note: ‘crazy’ is a virtue…if we don’t know any fools for Christ…life is poorer) from Antioch http://www.findachurch.co.uk/churches/sh/sh87/antioch/. I would feel uncomfortable all the time in a place like this, but they came to the more established churches with such love and grace and shared what they did with humility…and pointed us outwards. They kept this post-everything guy both sane and wild and forced him to challenge his innate conservatism.

dyfed-footprints

(this is one of the  photos from Dyfed’s blog……….see below….)

Two weeks ago, I found the blog of one of their former leaders who has now come back into ministry. It is so different to many of the blogs I look at, but so challenging ( I may not always be of the same mind, but I’m always taken out of myself and shown another way). Since I’ve been reading it, I’ve fallen into walking around and praying and asking God to bless a lot more. Check it out http://blogdyfedwynroberts.blogspot.com/. It may help you to realise that there is no contradiction between pentecostalism/charismatic worship and deep thinking/academic scholarship (but you have already read Gordon Fee haven’t you? Well haven’t you?).

One of the best bits has been getting back in touch with Dyfed (by e-mail):- someone who was around when I was learning and was a wise presence and a good friend (and a first language Welsh speaker to boot).

Maybe proper ecumenism isn’t so bad after all…