Starting in Local Ecumenism

Traditional Ecumenical Structures

Starting in local ecumenismVisit other churches
Take opportunities when you can to share in the worship of other Christian communities. If you don't wish to miss services at your own church, you could try different times on Sundays and some churches meet for worship during the week. Alternatively you might be able to find time whilst on holiday or away from home. There are not too many matters of courtesy and perhaps the main one is sharing in communion. If you are in doubt, there is no problem in any church if you remain in your seat. Alternatively, it may be possible to ask at the door as you enter the church.

Get involved with your Churches Together group
Churches Together groups are associations of churches in a geographical area who wish to share something of their mission and ministry together. They usually have a constitution and a committee to plan events or activities.

If there is no Churches Together group in your area, you might try to establish one. If there is support in your church and others in your area, your county ecumenical officer (in England) or national ecumenical officer (in Scotland and Wales) can explain what it involves.

Church meetings together
How about suggesting your local churches have one of the regular meetings of their Church Council, or equivalent, on the same evening and all meet in a school or community centre?  Each church could have a short meeting on their own but they would spend most of the time together addressing what they might do together.

This might not be possible every time, so it may be worth agreeing to send representatives to each other's church council meetings.  This way, especially if the representatives can report to their own church councils, it should be possible to stay informed of of the concerns of neighbouring churches.

Attend your sponsoring body
In England your sponsoring, intermediate or county body will bring together the churches in your county (a few intermediate bodies, eg in Milton keynes, exist which meet more locally than county level). Most of them hold occasional meetings for members of all the churches, on topics of general interest. These meetings are also opportunities to meet others who are interested in ecumenism.

To find out what is going on in your area you will need to contact your county ecumenical officer who will be known to your local Churches Together group.

Local Ecumenical Partnerships
Your church might be a Local Ecumenical Partnership (LEP). If so, it may be of a type known as a Single Congregation Partnership, where two or more denominations form a single church. Sometimes a Churches Together group will form a closer relationship, made up of several churches that continue to worship in their own buildings. This is a type of LEP known as Congregations in Covenanted Partnership.

More details about Local Ecumenical Partnerships can be found on Churches Together in England's website. A helpful guide to developing an LEP is 'Growing in Partnership'. If you need assistance to set up a new LEP, contact your county ecumenical officer.

Other approaches to ecumenical conversations

New Areas of Local Ecumenical Encounter
The growth of local ecumenical partnership in England owes a great deal to relationships which began with meeting a common need. Many Christians did not know each other, at least as fellow Christians, before they met to organise Christian Aid Week. It is significant that the focus was outward, beyond the churches themselves and their differences and separate histories. These relationships, and the often symbiotic relation to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, broke down the barrier of other Christians' church buildings being alien territory. Uniting for worship in each other's sacred space, which had been almost unknown, became normal or even commonplace.

There are many new areas where a similar journey is possible:

Climate Change
This is clearly more than an ecumenical issue; it concerns not only the whole inhabited earth but, perhaps even more in the first instance, the uninhabited earth! It has taken the place in the national psyche of nuclear war as the main cause of pessimism regarding the future. People with a determination to act now in ways which will mitigate the predicted disaster come together irrespective of their Christian tradition or even whether or not they are professing Christians.

New relationships which arise from addressing the common threat may lead to fresh conversations around fundamental theological questions. The Methodist / URC / Baptist Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) has produced resources about climate change and the Hope in God's Future report.

Hope Together
Hope 08 in 2008 was initiated mainly from new churches and Christian agencies before the historic Churches became involved. Again, because the focus was outward to the needs of the local community rather than inwards to the needs of the churches, there was potential for new relationships. As at the Millennium, some who were unlikely to be interested in anything labelled 'ecumenical' or wary of an agenda written by the historic Churches fiound their presumptions challenged. The usual 'Churches Together' agenda is also likely to be shaken.  This movement contnues as Hope Together.

As at the recent Global Christian Forum, people from very different parts of the Church may discover radically different perceptions of those they previously avoided.

Migration and Asylum
Christians of different Churches have been at the forefront of the campaign for justice for asylum seekers and fair and humane treatment of those who have been refused permission to remain in Britain. They have made common cause with others who share their commitment but not their Christian faith. Recent settlers, especially from Africa and East Asia, have been energetic in forming congregations in their own languages, changing significantly the local ecumenical scene. Some recent settlers will have come from countries where relations are very different between the Christian Churches and with the other faith communities.

Ecumenical instruments can support networks of visitors to Immigration Detention Centres and the Bail Circle of the Churches' Racial Justice Network has a proven record for supporting vulnerable asylum seekers.  The Methodist / URC / Baptist Joint Public Issues Team has produced resources about migration and asylum.

Joint Mission and Evangelism
Many Christians join forces across denominational boundaries to engage in mission, eg community projects and evangelism. This can be done formally through Churches Together groups, for example, or it can be done informally as groups of friends get together and begin to plan their own activities.

Meetings to discuss ecumenism
These can be done formally, perhaps through Lent groups, informally when a group of friends agree to meet and study together. Your county ecumenical officer may be able to help you find guidelines for these meetings if you need any help.

Pray together
Prayer groups are another possibility and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity produces material every year which can be used all year round.

There are many opportunities to communicate with other Christians in the worldwide web. For more ideas, visit the Ecumenical Uses for the Internet page.

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