International Reformed Anglican Dialogue
Elizabeth Welch writes:
It has been commented that at present in the UK we live in an ‘ecumenical winter’, in which the search for self-identity in separated churches has become stronger than the desire for moving closer together with one another. Local practical co-operation has flourished, as in the area of Hackney in which I live, where 30 churches co-operate in the Hackney Winter Night Shelter, providing shelter for the homeless on church hall floors during the winter months. However, the wider issues, such as the nature of shared Christian believing in a changing world, and the understanding of authority in the church and where authority lies, have taken a back seat in terms of ecumenical growth and development.
Having previously chaired a round of United Reformed Church and Church of England conversations, culminating in an historic service of Reconciliation, Healing of Memories and Mutual Commitment in Westminster Abbey in 2012, I was privileged to be invited to be the Reformed co-chair of the new round of the International Dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the Reformed Communion.
The last time this dialogue met, in the early 1980’s, the report God’s Reign and our Unity (1984) was offered as the culmination of the work. This report was seen as significant for its particular focus on the mission challenges facing the church and the need to share together in mission.
The next round of the dialogue began in Kerala, South India, in 2015. The carefulness with which the conversation needed to proceed was highlighted at the very start in the discussion about the title of the dialogue. Should we be the ‘Anglican Reformed International Dialogue’? But this would abbreviate to ‘ARID’, which was far from our hope. Or could we be the Reformed Anglican International Dialogue? This would then abbreviate to ‘RAID’, and we were praying for a more peaceful outcome. So we became the ‘International Reformed Anglican Dialogue’ or IRAD, with the hope that the title would reflect a neutrality and an openness to the way in which we prayed that God would lead us forward together.
Kerala is significant in being a place in which Reformed and Anglican churches, alongside other traditions, have come together, as part of the united Church of South India. One of the team members in the dialogue is a Reformed bishop from this church.
The communique from this first meeting pointed to the purpose of the dialogue: ‘The dialogue has been mandated to study to the nature of communion (koinonia), a wide range of missiological challenges facing the two Communions, and the sources wherein the work of the Spirit may be discerned, notably authority and governance, episcope and episcopacy.’
The meetings take place in the context of different continents, giving an opportunity to reflect contextually on the issues between Anglican and Reformed Christians. In South India we heard from the Moderator and General Secretary of the Church of South India, as well as from local congregational experience of sharing. In Cambridge in 2016 a visit was made to a Local Ecumenical Partnership between the Church of England and the United Reformed Church. In South Africa, there was a time to reflect on the churches’ role in the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
‘Communion’ has given an imperative to the direction of the talks. This is a word that has many dimensions. The Anglican Communion is a long standing body with much historic experience. The World Communion of Reformed Churches is a relatively new group, formed in 2010 from the Reformed Ecumenical Council and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. In each of our traditions, the service of Holy Communion lies at the heart of our worship. The dialogue group has reflected on the meaning of communion from the international setting to the local and personal context. This has been set within an understanding of the gift of communion that is seen in the life of the Holy Trinity, and thus reflected in the church. Many papers have been presented on the range of different meanings. In the third meeting of the dialogue group, ‘the group deepened its exploration of communion as an unbreakable gift and calling within the context of our diverse world communions.’
The meetings are rooted in prayer and worship, offered from the riches of these two traditions of the church. While the conversations have had times of difficulty and challenge, I give thanks to the Holy Spirit, for holding us together with one another, and opening up new pathways of shared exploration of our common faith.
Revd Elizabeth Welch
United Reformed Church Minister in Clapton Park United Reformed Church
Former Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly
Reformed Co-Chair of the International Reformed Anglican Dialogue
Download the communique Word document