Giles Pinnock is dismayed at the lack of commitment to ecumenism displayed throughout much of the CofE, and calls for a fresh start

At a recent ecumenical event, I, aged forty, was – bar one or two possible exceptions – the youngest of the hundred or so present. I was patted on the back at one point with the remark ‘nice to see the young people here.’ The lack of younger people engaged in formal ecumenism was remarked upon as not being a good sign.

Amongst the speakers, a Catholic priest reminded us, hitting the nail squarely on the head, that effective ecumenism had ceased when the Anglican Communion – and particularly the CofE – had opted for disastrous reliance on synodical government deciding the will of the Holy Spirit by majority vote, and then ordained women, demonstrating a understanding of ministerial priesthood fundamentally incompatible with that of the greater part of the Universal Church. The Anglican compere thanked him, patronisingly, for that interesting viewpoint, which he did not share.

Two ecumenisms

There were two ecumenisms present in the room. One sees ecumenism as an activity with an end-point – the unity of the Church. The other sees ecumenism as the continuation in perpetuity of the denominations, parallel and polite but not convergent. The greater part of the CofE, I fear, adheres to the latter view – enabling it to carry on ploughing its own furrow, innovating unchecked in doctrine, morals and Order. Damage to progress towards the unity for which Christ prayed does not even register as a cause for concern on the radar of the majority of the House of Bishops or the General Synod.

Has ecumenism become little more than ecu-mania – a busted flush that has lost its vision of the reconciliation of all Christians in the one Church, leaving little more than polite mutual acknowledgement and occasional acts of lowest-common-denominator corporate prayer? I fear that insofar as the greater part of the CofE wishes to engage in anything ecumenical, the flush is so busted as to make it too late now even to think of calling in a plumber.

So where does that leave those of us who were brought up in the optimism for organic unity between the CofE and the Catholic Church brought about by the Second Vatican Council, the ARCIC process and the visit to England by Pope John Paul II and the remarkable occasion of the Holy Father and the Archbishop of Canterbury kneeling together in prayer in Canterbury Cathedral?

Implications for a new province

The answer is – I believe – high and dry with nowhere corpo-rately to go, betrayed and frustrated by the ecclesial community. Unless, of course, there could be a vehicle configured so as to make corporate reconciliation with the Catholic Church a viable objective – if only for that part of the CofE that actually wants it.

For now, we wait on the Manchester Group, but we cannot sit on our hands. Is it not time for us to turn resolutely, like Jesus in Luke 9.51, towards our destination? Are we content with a ghetto and a shelf life of a generation or less? Or are we resolved to configure ourselves to pursue afresh corporate reconciliation with the Catholic Church – a quest on which the CofE will have finally turned its back – and the renewal in our discipleship that must accompany it?

I believe that if there is to be any form of new province for those who cannot in conscience accept the innovation of women (allegedly) in holy orders, and most particularly as members of the episcopate, it must have a genuinely ecumenical compass and a Catholic and unitive character, otherwise it will have little or no value in the life of the Church and will quickly wither. I would be interested to know what others think.

Fr Giles Pinnock is heading the working group on ecumenism as part of the FiF College of Deans ‘Making Disciples: Towards a New Province’ project. He would welcome contributions by 31 August from the readership of New Directions on ecumenical hopes that might realistically be had for any new province solution.