Ahead of its launch, CTE’s General Secretary, Rev Dr Paul Goodliff, reflected on the opportunity for nourishing ecumenical relationships…

From the earliest days of the coronavirus lockdown in March 2020, representatives from CTE national Member Churches have gathered on zoom on Monday mornings to share news of their church responses to a fast-changing set of circumstances. Meeting first weekly, then monthly, this ‘Coronavirus Roundtable’ proved to be an invaluable forum to exchange news, interpret regulations as they applied to churches and, perhaps most importantly, to deepen our fellowship and ecumenical friendship.
 
Roundtable member Philip Cooper (Moravian) writes, “These meetings have provided an excellent space for the sharing of information and have enabled the churches to support one another during the pandemic.  They have provided an opportunity to share concerns, to seek advice, and they have enabled the churches to journey together during this difficult time”.
 
This is echoed by another member, Fr. David Hoskin (Antiochian Orthodox) “The Coronavirus Roundtable has proved to be an extremely valuable forum for shedding light and sharing good practice, with several of its members having direct access to various consultative bodies of both central and devolved government in these islands.

“So many of the problems we face are shared by us all, and I, for one, have been encouraged by the support of my ecumenical colleagues.” 
 
Until then, a smaller group of National Ecumenical Officers had met twice a year. Now this broader group, including members of other National Ecumenical Instruments — CTE, CYTUN, Scottish Christian Forum and Irish Council of Churches — were meeting far more regularly — without any necessity to travel. Zoom was our friend, and the only cost an hour of our time!
 
Until June this year, we kept the focus pretty firmly on responding to the pandemic, and the ecumenical collaboration enabled by the Roundtable played its part in strengthening the arguments that kept churches open in the January lockdown from which we are still slowly emerging, as well as giving confidence to CTE in arguing strongly for the fullest up-take of vaccines as medically possible in the face of considerable ‘vaccine hesitancy.’
 
The value of a short meeting once a month has not been lost, and a new forum will be launching in September of this year, following a similar pattern of meeting and being hosted by CTE. The group will not only continue to monitor the ways in which the pandemic and its aftermath affect our life and witness as churches, but will also enable us to respond to other aspects of government legislation. We will follow trends in social change, share information about major changes within our churches as they have ecumenical impact, and commission the National Ecumenical Instruments, as well as CTBI, to represent the interests of the churches through their staff, especially their General Secretaries.  

An invitation to join this new Roundtable has been issued to every Member Church, and also to Enabling Group representatives from Intermediate Bodies. It is my hope and prayer that this new Roundtable will prove equally invaluable as the months and years go by, deepening our bonds of friendship, expanding our spiritual ecumenism, and equipping us better for the tasks of witness to Christ in society and culture. Philip Cooper says, “As we go forward, I feel sure these National Ecumenical Instruments Roundtable (NEIR) meetings will continue to be extremely valuable”.
 
Our ecumenical relationships are nourished by time spent in conversation and prayer — and the new National Ecumenical Instruments Roundtable (NEIR) will be one space where that nourishment is regularly provided.