Receptive Ecumenism

Although I identify as Anglican, first and foremost I am a child of God and a believer of Christ, connected to Christians worldwide through the Holy Spirit and my baptism.  For this reason I am ecumenical at heart, and am passionate about promoting ecumenism. My experience of Church has been varied, and the times I’ve spent worshipping and being with other brothers and sisters in Christ, both from denominational and independent churches has enriched my faith. Before feeling called to the Anglican Church, I worshipped in the 24/7 prayer movement, at international Baptist churches as well as at different CofE churches. I interned in a school chaplaincy charity with Christians from Hillsong churches, Baptist churches, the Salvation Army, and various independent churches alongside Anglican churches, and I attended the Churches Together England Forum where I really enjoyed interacting with Christians from many different denominations, several of whom I knew little about.

More recently, I spoke during the Mission and Ministry in Covenant debate held at July’s General Synod which hopes to secure an interchangeability of ministers between the Methodist and Anglican churches, and entry into fuller communion with one another. This came after participating in a group discussion of Anglicans and Methodists centred on the practice of receptive ecumenism*. Below is a copy of the speech I gave at General Synod.

‘Annika Mathews, Church of England Youth council. I declare an interest as incoming C of E lay rep to the Churches Together Enabling Group’.

Firstly, I really welcome the debate and update on this.  In my view, anything which seeks to work towards as full a form of unity as possible should surely be applauded. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called and granted by God to ‘a spirit of unity as we follow Christ, so with one heart and mind we may glorify God’. (Romans 15:5-6)

And where can that be most powerfully achieved than not only in the receiving of the Eucharist together with ecumenical friends, but also in the sharing and interchangeability of those who preside at the Eucharist?  

The sacraments of the Eucharist allow us to affirm our faith, reflect and refocus our commitment to God and one another. It is in Christ that we are all held together; indeed before I defined as Anglican, I gained my belonging to Christ. The visibility of the sharing of ministers across our churches will demonstrate the mutual belonging we share. I had the privilege of attending Conversations with the Methodists, one of two days focused on receptive ecumenism - not so much the giving of gifts but the receiving of gifts from each other. There was time to listen, ask questions, raise fears and examine the needs and challenges facing our churches. The next step is to see what we can offer from our churches to help towards filling the gaps and finding solutions to the problems we’ve identified in our own church traditions.

It is imperative that as a church we try to be completely humble and gentle, bearing with one another in love (to quote Ephesians 4:2). There are challenges ahead but these are being carefully considered to ensure that the uniqueness present in our Churches will be preserved. Unity does not equal uniformity. There might be some theological differences to tackle, but who knows and can embrace that better than Anglicans, amongst whom there already exists lots of diversity; in fact, the very thing which attracted me to the Church of England as my ‘home’ base.

More excitingly, there are so many opportunities for the mission of the church in local communities. If the interchangeability of clergy is permitted, it may encourage a greater resourcing of shared lay ministries such as children’s and youth workers, schools workers and administrators.

It is true, there are wounds and brokenness. We’re human, we hurt one another, but we also have great capacity to love each other, fulfilling what Christ commanded us.

And who better a guide do we have to walk with, what better healer and reconciler to bind our wounds and fix our misgivings than Jesus, our Lord and saviour, who promises ‘to be with us always to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20).’  

*Instead of asking what other traditions need to learn from us, we ask what our tradition needs to learn from them.

Written by Annika Matthews. Annika is currently participating on the Church of England Ministry Experience Scheme in Manchester, experiencing parish life. She is a General Synod Rep from the Church of England Youth Council as well as the C of E Lay Rep on the Churches Together Enabling Group.