Talk of an ecumenical winter may not be wholly correct, but latterly many traditional denominations seem to have become more concerned with their own issues (or survival). The formal arrangements of the 1960s and 1970s, once so energising, have become rather tired, more old hat than pioneer, and newer expressions are often uneasily decanted into old wineskins.
Dr Slipper writes from a life suffused by ecumenical experience, practice and reflection, deeply influenced by the remarkable Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare movement of which he is a member.
The starting point is that unity is not a by-product of Christian activity but its engine. It is not an optional extra but something that, if missing, impairs the Christian witness. Here is the impetus for theological discussion and practical discipleship that flows out of a mutual indwelling in the Triune God. Theology becomes an exploration together of the riches of God and mission is the reconciling people of God acting to reconcile the world.
Receptive Ecumenism then is that encouragement to be committed to one another to listen, reflect and appreciate what others have to offer, both individuals and ecclesial communities. The generous God scatters gifts among his people, for their edification and mutual sharing. In accepting the gifts, people are drawn deeper into the life of the Giver. This is perhaps easier to achieve at the level of individual believers than for blocs in formal conversations. The activity must extend beyond the traditional ecumenical partners, and embrace more recently emerging Christian traditions that may not as yet recognise the value of “the other”.
Dr Slipper encourages exploration of what do you and your tradition bring to the feast? Over the past decades readers will recognise cross-fertilisation in styles of worship, aspects of prayer and practical social action. Many congregations consist of people whose stories of faith started in another denomination, or none. Are the gifts that individuals bring necessarily the same as those that the ecclesial body offers? To accept a gift is not to put it on display but to put it to work, so what sort of individuals and what sort of denominations might emerge from this bi-lateral conversation?
Each chapter includes some points for individual or group reflection and discussion. Callan Slipper writes with a measured passion, and issues a call to embrace unity with a new earnestness, and to continue to engage in a committed way. One thing is sure, that each new generation of Christians needs to be fired with the desire to worship, pray and work together. This booklet points one way the search may bear fruit. I warmly recommend you read it for yourself.
Enriched by the Other: a spiritual guide to receptive ecumenism by Callan Slipper, Grove Books 139, ISBN 0262-799X. Priced: £3.95