Callan SlipperRelationships in lockdown

Rev Dr Callan Slipper, National Ecumenical Officer for the Church of England, writes...

It is strange how Zoom has been both a blessing and a curse - although, to be fair, the blessing seems to dominate. This is certainly true for the National Ecumenical Officers who have been meeting together during the Covid-19 crisis with the presence and help of the national ecumenical instruments. Indeed one of the most attractive aspects of these meetings (usually of twenty or more) was the presence, in various ways, of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), Churches Together in England (CTE), Cytûn (Churches Together in Wales), and from the transitional ecumenical body in Scotland.

Work in the ecumenical field gives you a healthy respect for these ecumenical instruments. Without them the cause of Christian unity would be in serious difficulty. With them we have a ready means of cooperating. This was the case with these online gatherings. Hosted by CTE and chaired alternately by CTE and CTBI, they have been an important way for the churches to keep in touch and share vital information. One church’s expertise became the property of others, churches with more resources could help those with fewer, and all could share in the collective questions when government guidance seemed odd or contradictory.

On one significant morning early on in the crisis, for instance, it was realised that the financial implications of the lockdown were going to be severe for the churches. This led to a meeting of church finance officers. A shared challenge became an ecumenical opportunity.

Important as the practical applications were, however, there has been one thing that in some sense outweighs the rest. It was the chance to meet frequently and build relationships. Nothing is better than meeting in person, of course. And these virtual meetings were only able to be successful because, on the whole, people had met and already knew one another. But what had never happened before was the frequency of meeting. So, although it may have been made possible by having already met physically, a deepening of relationships was the effect of meeting by Zoom.

No doubt this will bear fruit for Christian unity in the future. A little more mutual understanding, an extra dose of fellow-feeling, and an appreciation of the particular difficulties or even of the joys and gifts of another church is always significant. No doubt, also, what has become the ongoing experience of the National Ecumenical Officers has been replicated by other groups, each in its specific way. But that does not mean that this particular experience of blessing amid crisis is any the less valid.

We have something for which to give heartfelt thanks: the opportunity of serving our churches and, in the process, of taking another step along the road together towards the longed-for goal of genuine unity among Christians, one Church made up of markedly different members. 

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