Breathing the ecumenical air

CTE's recently retired General Secretary, Rev Dr Paul Goodliff, shares our Reflection of the Month for May...

As I write this piece for the CTe-News in May 2022, it is my final day as General Secretary. Tomorrow I shall be retired! It has been an enormous privilege to lead the English ecumenical instrument for the past four years, and I am grateful to God for the prayerful support of so many over my term as General Secretary.

At the recent Forum, Dr Lurliene Miller, Deputy Chair of the CTE Trustees, said that we had been through some stormy waters over this period (and she was not referring to my leadership style!) We have negotiated our way through the challenges of a deep disagreement about human sexuality, and remained united when I thought we might fragment; then the Covid19 pandemic struck 18 months into my tenure and almost overnight so much changed, (and with renewed determination to bring about racial justice in the midst). And just as we came out of that stormy weather, Russia invaded Ukraine, and the whole post-Cold War strategic and political order has been thrown into disarray. What a time to be General Secretary!

With a cost of living crisis already upon us, and the escalation of war in Europe threatening, I am not sure my successor Bishop Mike Royal will have any easier a passage to sail, but I am confident that he is well able to meet those challenges, and take the ecumenical life in England to its next chapter. Remember him in your prayers, as I shall.

It was not all challenge, of course. We have rejoiced in new Member Churches joining CTE, from long-standing Free Churches like the Wesleyan Reform Union, ancient churches like the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East in their English diocese and new churches like the Vineyard UK; and many Christian charities and ministries have become new Bodies in Association. Each new church and Body strengthens our life and witness together as the ecumenical family in England, and gives us fresh courage to face whatever challenges will come, both local to our nation, and international alike.

I said in my address to Forum that ecumenism has become the air the English churches breathe, and in that regard we are a signpost of hope for ecumenical witness elsewhere in the world. I dare to suggest that ecumenism is richer and deeper in England than almost anywhere else in the world. But we need to learn how to breathe that ecumenical air deeper and take the Spirit of God — the breath or ruach (in Hebrew) of God — into our collective lungs. To honour and learn from one another is a first step, and then to witness together in proclamation of the good news of Christ and compassionate concern for our neighbours, especially the most vulnerable. Alongside that we continue to seek greater unity in faith and practice. There is much ground still to plough and plant with the seeds of the kingdom.

We are undoubtedly better together: more faithful to the gospel, more repentant of the sins of disunity, more effective in our witness to Christ and we draw much greater courage and wisdom from our collective discernment than if we remain isolated. So, as I retire, I pray for a steady deepening of our ecumenical life in England until we “grow up in every way into him who is our head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped …. promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15–16)

Rev Dr Paul Goodliff was the CTE General Secretary from 2018 to 2022. Paul trained for Baptist ministry at Spurgeon’s College, and served for ten years as associate minister at Lewin Road Baptist Church before moving to Stevenage as minister of the Bunyan Baptist Church, and then the General Superintendent for the BUGB Central Area. He has also been a member of the WCC-Pentecostal Joint Consultative Group since 2000. Before serving as the BUGB Head of Ministry, Paul was a moderator of the Baptist Union’s Church Relations Committee. He has written books on pastoral care; the theology and psychology of shame; and most recently, ministerial formation and virtue ethics, Shaped for Service (2017) and ecumenism and oversight, Episkope (SCM 2020).