Cardinal Vincent Nichols became General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in January 1984, just as the Churches were beginning to re-evaluate the British Council of Churches.
Listen to his reminiscences below, and read more about what happened in our history section.
Recalling his involvement in the Not Strangers But Pilgrims Inter-Church Process, which navigated the shift from Councils of Churches to the Churches Together model, the Cardinal stressed the importance of recognising our different understandings of Church.
‘How is the Church understood?’ he asked. ‘And how is that understanding reflected in structures?’ Those were the fundamental questions underpinning the process of change. They had led to questions about authority and to a consensus that the new ecumenical instruments, like CTE, should be enabling bodies, not bodies which attempted to speak for the Churches.
Remembering the tensions of the early days, he recognised the way relationships had shifted and changed. The ecumenical instruments, he said, had been very effective in bringing people together and had created a shared space for strengthening relationships which had now developed to ‘allow a more serious conversation’. Shared space included the January Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and the Pentecost week of prayer for Christian mission which complemented each other, he said, though there is more energy for mission these days.
Asked about the lessons for today, the Cardinal suggested:
- We need to be patient with each other.
- Don’t be afraid of making longer-term plans towards something organic and structural.
- Learn to be flexible and don’t allow institutions or patterns created together to dominate the desire to move forward.
Finally, he acknowledged the way in which the Not Strangers But Pilgrims process gave ‘an equality of status to participating Churches’, adding ‘we still have a great deal to learn from that’.