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….