Recently, the West Yorkshire Ecumenical Council (@WYEC1) tweeted a question: “Are Local Ecumenical Partnerships the destination or the journey?”
My immediate reaction was that LEPs should be part of the journey and not the destination, but then I began to wonder: if this is true, what might the “final destination” look like? So this post is an exploration of this, but of course cannot claim to give any definitive (or possibly even coherent) answers.
First, it might be helpful to quickly describe LEPs, and perhaps even to make a distinction between two types (there may be more). The first type is where a single church / congregation / fellowship has a formal agreement between two or more denominations, an agreement which may include things like baptismal / membership practices, funding for buildings, provision of ordained ministry, pastoral oversight, participation in wider denominational activities, etc. The second type is where several churches / congregations / fellowships come together in some arrangement, perhaps for shared resources, mutual support, with recognition of different practices across the churches.
I am fortunate to be a member of a church which is part of the Cardiff East Local Ecumenical Partnership, an LEP of the second type, which includes churches belonging to specific denominations, and some churches that are LEPs of the first type in their own right.
I think this brief description shows that a key part in the concept of an LEP is the involvement of different denominations. This suggests that if LEPs are not the destination, then the destination is likely to involve these denominations coming together in more significant ways, and the creation of a “United” or “Uniting” Church. This has been or is being done in some parts of the world, but unfortunately I do not have enough knowledge of these to comment.
Here in Wales, however, there is some movement in this direction. As well as Cytun (the Churches Together in Wales), which has wide-ranging membership, some denominations and individual Baptist churches have formed the Covenanted Churches of Wales, which seeks greater unity. In October 2012 the Covenanted Churches held “The Gatehering” at which some proposals were put forward, including the possibility of thinking of ourselves as “the Church Uniting in Wales”. Whether these proposals will be accepted, and where we go from here, remains to be seen.
Is this a glimpse of a final destination for ecumenism, a single Church, either global or within a particular geographic area? It might be. But perhaps the biggest questions for such a vision are whether it can encompass all Christian congregations in a particular area, and what its response would be to the establishment of a new “non-conforming” congregation in its area.
And how far does the term “Christian” extend? Most denominations were established because of doctrinal / theological / ecclesiological differences, and many people may still find some of these irreconcilable. I was saddened to read a blog post recently on “interfaith” that considered Christianity and Catholicism as different religions. But would / should / could a United Church include Unitarians? Jehovah’s Witnesses? Where do Quakers fit?
And having raised the question of “interfaith”, should our ecumenism go beyond Christianity? I know that groups from different faiths are already working together in community support; not sure yet the extent that different faith congregations are sharing premises for (separate) worship; what next?
If a single United Church is the final destination for Christianity, it seems that it is a long way off, if in fact it is reachable at all. LEPs will then continue to be part of the journey, as may be an increasing number of “Partially United Churches” in different parts of the world, as well as other expressions of unity – among people of all faiths.
And perhaps these practices, really are the destination; perhaps @WYEC1 is right when it suggests at the end of its tweet that “Unity is in the process”.