Monday, 17 June 2013

Has the Uniting Church lost its ecumenical "mojo"?

I'm a Minister of the Word in the Uniting Church in Australia.

I'm also an ecumenical staff person. 

I've been able to make these two statements together for about a year now.

Earlier in my life, there was a period of nine-and-a-half years - from early 1992 to late 2001 - when I could also make those same two statements together.

In that earlier time, I found very little conflict in these two roles as a UCA minister and an ecumenical staffer.

Now I'm not so sure.

In that earlier time, my ministry as an ecumenical staffer was in the context of being part of a church whose ecumenical commitment was part of its bedrock identity.

Now, I'm not so sure.

In the thirty-six years since the Uniting Church came into being, I suspect we've lost some of our ecumenical "mojo".

In the years soon after the union of the Congregational and Methodist Churches (along with the more sensible wing of the Presbyterian Church)  in 1977, we were identified strongly with the move toward a wider unity among Christians.  In fact, the Uniting Church's goal was seen by many as to go out of existence (at least in its current configuration) as we became part of a wider union with other Christian churches in this country (a union which - by definition - would be something different from the Uniting Church which came into existence in 1977).

In recent years, we've become less of a movement toward unity and more of a denomination.  Increasingly, we've become very comfortable as a denomination.  In my opinion, we've become far too comfortable as a denomination.

As in other denominations, there are some of us who are enthusiastic about ecumenism and some who are suspicious about ecumenism, saying things like "As long as the others become like us, ecumenism is fine ... but WE don't have to change anything."

This Saturday, 22nd June 2013, is the 36th anniversary of the day that the Uniting Church in Australia was founded.  For those of us who are members of the UCA, I'd like to suggest a few things for which we can pray.

One prayer is that we can seek to keep the distinctive gifts and graces (what Roman Catholic religious orders call charisms) of our parent churches:
  • the Congregational respect for diversity,
  • the Methodist optimism both in regard to God's grace and in regard to human nature, and
  • the Presbyterian respect for serious scholarship.
Another prayer is that we avoid the serious errors of our parent churches:
  • the parochialism of Congregationalism,
  • the moralism of Methodism, and
  • the legalism and pedantry of Presbyterianism.
A third prayer is that we can, once again, find our ecumenical "mojo".


(You may also wish to see a later post, exploring the UCA's ongoing ecumenical task.)

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Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.