The first meeting of the English Anglican-Roman Catholic Committee took place on Monday 20 April 1970 in Westminster Cathedral Library. The origins of this bilateral body follow the 1964 Vatican II Council statement opening the Roman Catholic Church to the ecumenical movement, and the subsequent establishment of ARCIC (Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission) in 1966.
It was actually not until the seventh meeting, in November 1972, that the name ‘English Anglican-Roman Catholic Committee’ came to be used. The purpose of English ARC was defined as:
The positive fostering of Roman Catholic and Anglican relations in England, and the co-ordination of future work undertaken for this purpose by our two churches.
Already in these early stages some topics that continue to be considered today were mentioned: the possibilities of spiritual ecumenism, promoting joint church schools, encouraging local ecumenism, making the work of ARCIC known, and fostering co-operation in theological education.
A report around 1975 by former English ARC Co-Chair, the Rt Revd William Chadwick, Bishop of Barking, demonstrated that, in the early days of the body, the work was strongly regionalised, but this later moved to the national level, as it remains to this day. In the early days, the members did not foresee just how long-term the task of promoting Anglican-Catholic rapprochement would be; in July 2018 English ARC celebrated its 100th meeting!
The focus for English ARC in the 1970s and 1980s was very much a theological one. A key area of work was producing resources for the reception of high profile ARCIC documents, with the Final Report of ARCIC I released in 1981. ARCIC I represented a theological breakthrough, enabling the recognition of ‘substantial agreement’ between the two churches and changed working relationships on the ground.
Since then EARC has continued to meet twice annually and has undertaken many projects with the aim of encouraging and helping churches and communities to engage with ecumenism. In 2007, members of EARC were asked to share their reflections on Eucharistic sharing; a topic that has long been and continues to be an understandably important consideration for the group. In 2008 the committee produced guidance for joint Anglican-Roman Catholic Schools and in 2013, following the example of Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby, they produced a leaflet entitled ‘Praying for Unity’, intended to encourage and equip local churches. In 2016 English ARC commissioned Dr Paula Gooder to produce a study guide to accompany Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). This excellent guide helps to open the Holy Father’s exhortation for ecumenical discussion, particularly for the Anglican church.
The most recent major project for EARC, published in 2018, was a comprehensive mapping exercise, entitled ‘Walking together’, which investigated and charted the relations between the churches across England.
In July 2018, English ARC reached the historic landmark of its 100th meeting. This coincided with the new quinquennium for the committee with many new members, who were joined by around 35 former members of English ARC for a celebration at Lambeth Palace.
English ARC has benefited from the presence of a representative from the Church in Wales, who has in the past been appointed in addition to the agreed equal number of members from the Church of England and from the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. At the beginning of the new quinquennium, it was decided that the Church in Wales representative should instead be appointed as one of the agreed number of Anglican members matching the Catholic membership, alongside the Church of England members. The name of the committee was thus changed to English and Welsh ARC accordingly.
The new Co-chairs and members are discussing and embarking upon their next areas of work for the upcoming term of 2018-2023.