Taking time to learn

Fears and prejudices lurk within all of us and can inhibit working together. A church leader represents that church to colleagues. Over the centuries, we have damaged each other and sometimes that comes to the surface again - or it remains unacknowledged causing even more trouble.

Sometimes personal relationships between church leaders can warm denominational coolness - and even change a detail or two. Sometimes personal relationships will have to weather denominational tensions.

What we seek is a maturity of relationship with ecumenical colleagues, so that communication is open and real not tentative and partial. Trust needs time to grow and a key step is to take the learning process seriously.

We expect to learn the tools of our trade in a whole host of areas. We therefore properly give time to learning the language and procedures of ecumenical working. It is difficult enough learning how our own Church operates, so work which zigzags across a number of Churches, requiring joint attention and decision-making, is bound to be complex, and at times tedious.

Working along lines found useful by others should be helpful. It requires patience. Establishing a pattern of joint working between people who do not normally work jointly takes time and effort.

The learning required of us is twofold:

• About ecumenical structures and procedures - territory which may seem foreign to all of us

• About how Partner Churches work - you will probably need to build on the knowledge you already have. You will discover that Churches' procedures change - and that sometimes people do not know all the details of how their own Church operates.

The basics about ecumenical structures and procedures relate to:

• Patterns established in 1990, as the result of a wide ranging consultation called 'Not Strangers but Pilgrims' bringing in new partners, especially the Roman Catholic Church, and the Black Majority Churches: with the creation of new bodies such as Churches Together in England, Cytun, ACTS and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland; County Sponsoring Bodies; Local Churches Together groupings.

• Local Ecumenical Partnerships - predating the 1990 re-ordering - with various categories: some for local churches, others for sectors or institutions.

Learning how Partner Churches work requires:

• Discovering the current terminology for other church leaders and representatives, and for the structures within which they work.

• Knowing what each colleague can actually deliver in the process of joint decision-making.

• Establishing effective routes for consultation between the different Churches, often designed to work quite differently from our own.

Taking time to discover and absorb the details is a key to a good relationships and proper outcomes. To behave as if there are no technicalities to master is to devalue the work of predecessors and colleagues.

And when you have mastered all this, you will discover that the scene is changing all the time, so be ready to seek advice more than once.

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