I was completely inspired by the Churches Together in England (CTE) Forum gathering held from 14-16 March 2022 at Hayes Conference Centre in Derbyshire. It was my third CTE Forum, having attended in 2015 and 2018 as part of the delegation from Birmingham Churches Together. What made this Forum particularly special was that we were emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic and many present had not been in a face to face conference over the last two years!
What has always struck me at CTE Forum is the opportunity to form friendships and fellowship with a eclectic and diverse mix of people from across the church spectrum. The informal conversations that happen around the bar in the evenings are just as enriching as the programme content.
The stand out moment of the conference to my mind was the opportunity for CTE Forum to hear from the immigration minister Lord Harrington via conference call on the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ initiative that had been launched by the government on the first day of Forum. The initiative allowed everyday people and ordinary church folk to host Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war. Some carefully crafted questions for the minister ensured he was held to account by delegates the Forum floor. An amusing moment came when I was conducting the interview and the minister suggested his answer had been long winded. I quickly responded “You’re a politician” to which the conference erupted in laughter. A light-hearted moment in the midst of grappling with the most serious crisis facing Europe since the Second World War.
The workshop programme was wide and varied and the market place full of the many Christian organisations (Bodies of Association), linked to CTE engaging with delegates, with a desire to partner with local churches.
This CTE Forum was particularly special for me as I was inducted as General Secretary of Churches Together in England. Not only was it an opportunity for whole forum to thank the outgoing General Secretary Rev Dr Paul Goodliff for the sterling job he had done over the last four years, but it was also an opportunity to set out my stall.
I took the opportunity to lament the pain and rejection felt by our Quaker sisters and brothers in relation to the ‘empty chair’ of the Fourth Presidency of CTE over disagreements about the issue of same sex marriage and LGBTQ+ rights within our ecumenical family. My hope moving forward is that where we disagree, we can find a way to disagree well.
It was also a chance for me to call for a focus on raising up a new generation of ecumenists in England. To ensure that George Floyd’s death is not just a moment of reflection but a movement of change for the church as it continues to engage in the work of the CTE Racial Justice Working Group. And to focus on the renewal of ecumenism at a grassroots level. We desperately need to move away from structures suffering from inertia and boring business meetings where many ‘lose the will to live’, to enabling structures that build a bigger table. I am particularly passionate about our Pentecostal, Charismatic and Orthodox churches taking their place at the table of our intermediate (county) Ecumenical structures. Local unity movements that are relational and connect with the public square have to be the way forward. Local Churches Together groups should also seek to welcome our diverse independent churches, especially our Black, South Asian and migrant churches who represent much of the growth in the church across England.
As we continue together on this journey of ecumenism at the start of my tenure as General Secretary, I am reminded of the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury and CTE President, Justin Welby at CTE Forum 2022, to encourage us to consider “who we believe in” the Jesus we all follow, over “what we believe” our specific theology.
Bishop Mike Royal was commissioned at the General Secretary of Churches Together in England on 16 March 2022. Before joining CTE, Bishop Mike was the Co-Chief Executive of The Cinnamon Network, a charity helping churches across Britain and Ireland with community engagement and social action projects. He is a founding Trustee and former National Director of award-winning charity Transforming Lives for Good (TLG) which works with children and young people at risk of exclusion from school. He is also a part time Forensic Mental Health Chaplain with Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust. Mike has a BA in Urban Planning from the University of Westminster and an MA in Black Theology from the University of Birmingham. He has been in ordained ministry since 1993 and was consecrated as a Bishop with the Apostolic Pastoral Congress in 2016.