Friday, 10 November 2017

Transforming Ecumenism

Rev. Linsday Cullen reflects on his time at the fourth International Receptive Ecumenism Conference in Canberra.

Everyone knows that ecumenism is easy, right? All you have to do is persuade every other Christian tradition that you are right, and you’re done!

Well of course no-one would put it quite as baldly as that, but perhaps too often churches enter ecumenical dialogues and conversations, with their ‘non-negotiables’ or “the things we have to teach them” firmly in mind.

Receptive Ecumenism aims to change the framing of ecumenism by inviting Christian traditions to carefully consider their own life and the areas where they feel a sense of lacking, their “woundedness”, and then entering into ecumenical dialogue with partners from whom they can learn and receive gifts that might enable healing and wholeness. As a result, the beginning point for this type of ecumenical engagement is humility, recognising that we can’t be all we want to be without input from our sisters and brothers in Christ.

In some ways this approach might seem overly pragmatic, or even somewhat self-focussed, but the Receptive Ecumenism Conference strongly highlighted two themes that ensure that this is not the case. Firstly, we were regularly reminded that the goal of Receptive Ecumenism is not personal spiritual growth (though that might happen), or simply discovering practical solutions to problems (though that might happen), but the goal is institutional transformation. Secondly, another key theme we heard was of the key “ecumenical virtue” of love. Our engagements ought to be driven by our love for the other — by our respect and our admiration for some quality in our ecumenical partner from which we would like to learn.

The air in Canberra is chillier than Sydney, but surrounded by people who were exercising humility and love, and were keen to learn from others, it felt very warm!