2014-04-12 09:47:57

New ways of being Church together

(Vatican Radio) A three day international conference on new ways of doing ecumenism and interfaith dialogue concluded in Oxford on Friday. Organised by the Ecclesiological Investigations network of theologians from different Churches and religious traditions, the meeting focused on new hopes for the future of the ecumenical movement. Vatican Radio’s Philippa Hitchen was taking part in proceedings and sends us this report: RealAudioMP3

I first caught up with the Ecclesiological Investigations network in Assisi two years ago, when they held a conference called ‘Where we dwell in common’, exploring different tracks or levels of ecumenical dialogue. I was struck by the intriguing insights of participants who were pushing boundaries and making connections at a time when many had all but lost hope in what was often described as an ‘ecumenical winter’.

Last year, I reported on their encounter in Belgrade exploring the relationship between Religion, Authority and State in the year marking the 1700th anniversary of Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan. Again I was impressed by the innovative ideas of many young theologians from different religious traditions trying to move beyond the divisions of the past.

This year the setting was a Church of England theological college near Oxford and the theme was new hope for an ecumenical springtime, especially following the election of a pope who seems to be modelling fresh ways of welcoming and listening to other Christian leaders.

Once again the range of ecumenical and interfaith perspectives was impressive and at times quite unexpected. Like listening to an Anglican bishop analyse the question of local and universal authority, as discussed some time ago by two German cardinals, Joseph Ratzinger and Walter Kasper. That question remains at the heart of the current Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission or ARCIC discussions which will resume in South Africa next month.

Or hearing a Serbian Orthodox professor explore similarities between couple or family therapy and the deep seated conflicts which make Christians wary and unwilling to understand each other’s point of view.

Or watching a Catholic theology professor’s presentation on Japanese art and the visual culture of Buddhism as a way of moving beyond contentious words that continue to keep our Churches apart.

I heard new ideas on liturgy and mission, fresh perspectives on motherhood and the role of Mary, and original thoughts on the key Christian virtues of humility, gratitude and hope.

These meetings don’t produce any final statements or even try to come to any real conclusions. But they do produce a great deal of energy, enthusiasm and an exchange of ideas that professors and students alike are now taking back to their institutions and places of worship. And I’ve no doubt that like the spring blossoms that were bursting out all over the Oxfordshire hillsides we could see from our conference hall windows, these ideas will take root and grow, in good time, into a new season of reconciled relationships and a new way of being Church together.

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