For most people, working together as churches (sometimes called ecumenical co-operation) means working locally with other churches in the town or village where you live – with other Christians who live close by. This is where many people for the first time experience the joy of working together, joining in fellowship, prayer and worship and sharing resources.
As well as taking the opportunity to mark key moments in the year together, such as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, what often sparks enthusiasm is when Christians can come together and make a difference in the lives of the marginalised, ignored and broken-hearted, or those struggling with some kind of addiction.
Very often local ecumenical work is rooted in good friendships and relationships between key church leaders. Without that it can be difficult to truly work alongside one another.
In our short resource Re-imagining Churches Together groups you’ll find three brief stories of how local groups are working together, alongside questions for local groups to consider together.
Stories from around the country
There are local Churches Together groups up and down the country who are doing incredible things together. Here we feature several examples from different parts of England:
Falmouth & Penryn, Cornwall
Falmouth & Penryn Churches Together (FPCT) is an association of 19 Christian church congregations in Falmouth, Penryn and the surrounding areas in West Cornwall. Their Churches Together group provides a forum in which they can explore and then put into action ways of serving God together – both in worship and in service to the community. FPCT are involved in a wide range of activities in their town, from foodbanks, care home ministry, Messy Church and university chaplaincy, to a traditional Good Friday Walk of Witness.
Thirsk, North Yorkshire
Another example is Churches Together in Thirsk, North Yorkshire.
Ian Haylett from the Salvation Army tells the story of their drive-in carol service during the coronavirus pandemic: “The original idea came out of a Churches Together in Thirsk & District Zoom meeting held in September 2020, when the Covid pandemic was taking a second grip of the country. We were facing up to the likelihood of trying to celebrate Christmas without the possibility of a public outreach for any of our churches. A crazy idea to have a carol service in a car park seemed like it might work. We agreed that a simple service with carols, readings, a short message and prayer, all within 35-40 minutes was all that was needed.
“All 200 places were booked, with around 450 people attending in total, and it was a fantastic event. Although we couldn’t hear the singing, people flashed their lights and honked their car horns in appreciation and joy at being able to do something which was the closest to full-throated singing than they had been able to achieve for much of the year. As people left there was the noise of car horns, raised thumbs, smiles and a few tears too. The feedback came in from social media and a survey, confirming that the event was a universal success.”
A third example comes from churches working together in Ledbury, Herefordshire. Church leaders met together during the pandemic in 2020, and also met with leaders in the Anglican diocese, as well as an organisation called Futurekraft who work with churches in establishing social action projects. The outcome of those meetings was a decision by the churches to place the missional and ecumenical work of the town under the auspices of a new charity.
Called LEAF (Locally Encourage All to Flourish), the charity, headed up by Tony Hodder as the Chief Executive Officer, is the main instrument through which the churches take the gospel into the community. Whilst they remain in their church families for pastoral care and fellowship, the churches no longer wished to view evangelism as an activity undertaken by a single denomination.
The majority of the missional work of the churches now comes under the organisational umbrella of LEAF, effectively making it the outreach arm of the church.
Our story Ecumenical Easter Eggs shares how, using Easter eggs from the Meaningful Chocolate Company, LEAF provided Easter eggs with messages of Christian hope to all local children on free school meals.
Ottery St Mary, Devon
The06 is the name of the youth work project based in Ottery St Mary, East Devon. It brings together six church denominations (Anglican, Methodist, URC, Salvation Army, New Life (independent charismatic) and Roman Catholic), all passionately committed to connecting with children and young people in the area. Read more on our young people mission page.
In 2014 we shared the story of churches in Tamworth, where the regional church leaders gathered to commission a night-time Street Angels chaplaincy. It was an opportunity to highlight and hear from a wide variety of local church networks that included: food banks; youth outreach, housing project, debt counselling and other mission work. Read the Tamworth story here.