Friday, 18 November 2011


Chapel, World Council of Churches, Switzerland
In 2010, a small group of New College ministry students and a couple of our Prof's went on an educational trip to Geneva.  We were there for just under a week, it was fab., and I blogged a wee bit about it here. 

One of the days saw us spend time at the World Council of Churches [WCC] and then head off after lunch to the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, where studies in ecumenism can be undertaken for short concentrated periods, or up to Masters level.  At both places we were met with hospitality, shown around, the work discussed.  A good day for getting some thoughts going.  However, what has stuck with me was a comment made by a fellow student on the bus heading back to Geneva:
'What's the point of ecumenism, it's not like they're going to become Christians, is it?'
I remember my eyes slightly popping out of my head and inwardly sighing at the same time....
Nevertheless, his comment has stuck with me and this week seems to have popped up back into my thoughts once again.

I got to thinking about how there seems to be a very huge disconnect:
on one hand there are the professional international ecumenical structures and people within them who produce reports, host conferences, create resources, and of course do a heck of a lot more besides. 
Ecumenism at the corporate level. 
On the other, there's ecumenism that bubbles up at the local level: a group of churches of different backgrounds and traditions working together on specific projects, or occasionally sharing worship, joint study groups, etc.
My sense is that the disconnect is a communicational one. 
Does ecumenism shoot itself in the foot by the way information is shared - or not shared, or the manner in which it is shared? 
Does ecumenism at the 'top' get caught up in the big structures that it forgets to provide information to folk at the local end? 
If it does provide information is it written in the language of 'the corporation', creating reports that obscure information? 
Who does it pass the information on to? 
Are initiatives, and the ongoing work of ecumenism shared with a very select group within ecumenical corporate/ academic/ theological groups? 
Is this lack of effective communicating creating a growing suspicion of ecumenical work at the very top echelons - money spent on junkets and talk-fests, etc.? 
Or is the lack of information such that folk don't really think about ecumenism enough to be either suspicious, lukewarm, or excited about it? 
Coupled with all of that, even the very word 'ecumenism' is interpreted by different traditions in very different ways.

How do we learn to make use the work done at the higher echelons of ecumenism? 
Does it even fit at the local level? 
How do we ensure high calibre theological discussion is maintained, and also that it is shared in such a way as to make it a useful and enriching resource for folk in the pews?
How do we demonstrate that ecumenism / working together can be a powerfully enriching thing, a useful way in which to marshal limited resources as we work together - rather than reinventing the wheel in our own small corner?
How do we market ecumenism and make it sexy? 

Still thinking.
I suspect it's not one of those instant quick-fix solution type matters...!


David said...

Interesting thoughts... I may be a bit cynical, but I think that ecumenism at the upper levels of churches is a game that is being played rather than actually having any commitmenb behind it. Ecumenism works at ground level because there doesn't seem to be the same reverence for rules and dictats from previous years.

Nik said...

or at the local level it is less hindered by multiple and ponderous layers of structure?