Suggested good practice for Member Churches
The suggestions of ‘rules’ offered to the churches in the early 1990s have been modified here to reflect changes of language and structure, but not of principle. Ecumenical Instruments are bodies like CTE.
Working together in the new Ecumenical Instruments
As a general principle, work is no longer to be done by the ecumenical instruments on behalf of the churches, but by the Member Churches with and for one another. A major role of the ecumenical instruments is to enable the churches to act together – by bringing together people in the churches with common interests acting as a channel for the exchange of information, etc.
1: Member churches should be ready to share their own vision of the issues which are important and their own programmes of work with the officers of the ecumenical instruments and with one another.
Member churches should inform the relevant people at CTBI or Churches Together in England of work projected or underway and share information about it with the relevant network, commission, co-ordinating group or agency.
Work at intermediate (county or metropolitan area) level may be as interesting as work at national level in this context. The staff of Churches Together in England have a role in this as well as the officers of the churches.
Among the key tasks of those working the ecumenical instruments are:
to ensure that networks, groups, commissions and agencies are established bringing together people in the churches with shared interests;
to map out the work under way in the different member churches. Member churches can themselves help by mapping out the work, including ecumenical work, in which they are engaged;
to act as a repository of information on work done or in progress within member churches.
2: When considering embarking on new items of work, or reviewing existing areas of work, member churches should ask themselves whether the principles of working described above are adequately embodied in the way they propose to proceed.
At the Faith and Order Conference at Lund in Sweden in 1952 the participants asked the member churches “whether they should not act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately”. This question should be constantly before our churches as they consider all their activities. Of course there may be circumstances in which it makes sense to establish a working party or other group on a denominational basis. But many issues are of common interest to the churches, and can be addressed more efficiently and comprehensively if the work is done ecumenically.
When member churches are reviewing existing work or considering new work they should therefore share their proposals for action with other member churches through the relevant ecumenical body. In this way ecumenical considerations should become not an additional factor to be considered at the end of a project, but part of the very thinking about it from its inception, and also a regular factor in any review of existing work.
3. Member churches should take into account priorities established ecumenically when considering their own internal priorities for work.
All member churches and the new ecumenical instruments have limited resources. Choices have to be made about how those resources are to be used.
Each member church has its own different structure of authority through which decisions about priorities are taken. Denominational responsibilities and structures vary, and cannot easily be aligned. The important thing is that there should be a process of dialogue – through representative bodies, groups, commissions, agencies, networks, etc – so that decisions about priorities in each context are informed by thinking and views expressed in the other. It is also important that churches should be sensitive to the possibility of the gradual alignment of structures where that would pose no substantial threat to their particular structure of authority.
Charity demands that where one church or group of churches has a priority which requires action from other churches, the other churches take this very seriously.
4. Member churches should be on the look-out for opportunities to share resources with one another by offering to undertake particular pieces of work.
Given the limited resources of member churches, it makes sense to co-operate/share resources wherever possible. In that way, small contributions can together add up to a useful sum, and the smaller churches can be helped by the larger. Proposals for ecumenical sharing need to be cleared through the ecumenical instruments. They should:
be agreed within the member church making the proposal;
be agreed by the other member churches;
include a clear understanding about how the shared arrangement is to work, what contributions are expected from each participating church, and how accountability to the member churches is to be ensured.
5. Member churches should consider carefully the development of methods of working which further ecumenical co-operation.
Methods of working which are normal in some churches may not help in achieving the involvement of other churches in a piece of work which is to be taken forward ecumenically.
There may also be a need to think imaginatively about how reports developed ecumenically are processed within the member churches. For example, an ecumenical working group may prepare a draft of conclusions and recommendations resulting from a piece of work, but it may help the handling and acceptance of a particular report if its conclusions and recommendations are put in final form by the board or committee which has direct responsibility for the subject within each member church.