Ecumenism and the importance of church unity

CTE General Secretary Bishop Mike Royal charts the journey of ecumenism in the Black Pentecostal Church and shares how Christian leaders can work towards church unity in 2024.

I’ve always been interested in other church traditions since I was very young. Despite being wheeled into Pentecostal Church from birth, I always enjoyed attending St James Riddlesdown C of E in Purley, London, once a month with my Cub-Scout group as a child. This gave me my first taste of another church tradition other than my own and, to be honest, I loved it. Wind forward over 40 years and I have the privilege of leading a movement committed to helping the church foster a deep appreciation for each other’s traditions and to work towards a more perfect unity.

Black Majority Churches and the Ecumenical Journey

Of course, Black-majority Churches (BMCs) have been pivotal in the development of ecumenical relations in the UK since the 1980’s.  People like Bishop Dr Esme Beswick MBE, founder of the Joint Council for All Nations and Bishop Sheila Douglas who look over leading the International Ministerial Council of Great Britain, were two of the founding members of Churches Together in England (CTE). And when I look at the roll call on the wall of the CTE office’s board room, I see the name Rev Desmond Pemberton, who served as a CTE President in the early 1990s while he was Superintendent of the Wesleyan Holiness Church. Their work was followed by Bishop Dr Joe Aldred who was a Principal Officer and did so much to grow the constituency of Pentecostal Churches within CTE. Pastor Agu Irukwu from Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) Jesus House, London, served as Pentecostal and Charismatic CTE President from 2018-2021, followed by the current incumbent Bishop Tedroy Powell from the Church of God of Prophecy (COGOP).

Fostering Ecumenical Relations

At every level of the church, fostering good ecumenical relations is important. At a national level, seeing Black Pentecostals foster deeper ties with the Anglican Church has been a real joy. And this year, Shermara Fletcher the Principal Officer for Pentecostal, Charismatic Churches and Multi-cultural Relations was instrumental, along with other colleagues, in bringing together Pentecostals and Charismatics with Orthodox Church leaders at CTE, with good BMC representation at that meeting. To listen, as different church leaders simply shared their own testimony, helped to ensure everyone left the room with a great appreciation of each other’s traditions.

At CTE we talk about Receptive Ecumenism, where each leader comes to a meeting to be enriched by traditions other than their own, but also shares their own tradition to enrich others. That way, where I am lacking, others can contribute to making me whole and bringing the church into deeper unity.

Locally I have seen Black Church leaders make significant contributions unity movements in towns and cities. In Birmingham, #Time4Change led by Pastor Calvin Young from Mount Zion Church, has encouraged the churches across the city to take seriously the issue of racial justice. In addition, Bishop Dr Desmond Jaddoo has worked tirelessly, through the Windrush National Organisation, to highlight the Windrush Scandal injustices still being felt by the Caribbean community in the UK.

It has been a joy to be the first Pentecostal and Black General Secretary of Churches Together in England and represent Pentecostals and other church traditions that were not present at the Coronation, where I was one of six ecumenical leaders who pronounced a blessing on King Charles III in 2023. But I long to see more. So here are five points of encouragement for church leaders moving forward.

Ways forward

  1. Take time to get involved with your local church unity movement or Churches Together group. Spending time praying together is important.
  2. Build closer relationships with the police, the local authority and other statutory agencies in your local council. Remember, when these agencies want to liaise with the churches it’s always best to be part of one group, so you can work together in unity and speak with one voice.
  3. Get to know your national Ecumenical Representative. Nearly every Pentecostal Church has one, they can give you a deeper understanding of how your denomination is working in unity with other churches.
  4. If you are a church leader, arranging a pulpit exchange where you exchange preaching ministry with another tradition, perhaps as part of the Week of Christian Unity.
  5. Foster an ecumenism of the heart and don’t just stick to your own tradition. Jesus said “…that they all might be one as I and the Father are one” (John 17:21). Let’s take unity seriously. I believe it’s the ultimate form of church maturity.

This article first appeared in Keep the Faith magazine Issue 128.

Photo: Bishop Mike Royal and Pastor Leki Sanusi, leader of Redeemed Christian Church of God, Europe, stand in front of the CTE Presidents’ roll of honour