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The following article was published in the January 2000 issue of The Journal.

Reflections Over Thirty Years

Fr Peter Hocken was present at the first gathering of English interchurch couples, held at Spode House in November 1968, and at several more Spode conferences in the following few years, Since then he has been based in the United States, but has recently returned to England where he is chaplain to the Bishop of Northampton , He addressed the annual conference of the Association of Interchurch Families, which celebrated its 30 years at Swanwick in August 1999. 

I am not going to reflect on the Association of Interchurch Families over thirty years, in view of my long absence. I shall reflect on how my ecumenical experience of the last thirty years has reshaped my thinking, and where possible to relate this to the AIF. My ecumenical experience of the last 25 years has been almost entirely in the eharismatic context, though I have sought to keep in touch with the wider ecumenical movement. 

Relationships based on experiential starting-point
One obvious difference between my ecumenical experience of relationships in the charismatic movement and my previous ecumenical experience in more mainline church relationships is that the former are based on common or shared experience, rather than on church membership, theological convictions or ccumenical vision. Their basis is in effect the recognition and acccptance of the work and presence of the Holy Spirit in one another, however strange and unfamiliar their denominational or connexional affiliations and doctrinal positions. You will see how this starting-point has led me to see the importance for all ecumenical relations of a recognition and acceptance of the work of the Holy Spirit in other Christians and their traditions. It does not require much effort to see the relevance of this to interchurch marriages. Christian marriage demands an attention to the work of the Holy Spirit in each partner, and interchurch marriages require an attention to the work of the Holy Spirit in each partner understood in relation to his or her church affiliation. 

Some Characteristics of Charismatic Ecumenism
I will list several characteristics at random:

The importance of testimonies
The mutual acceptance as believers moved by the Holy Spirit owes much to testimonies of one's experience of God, of knowing Jesus Christ, and cxperiencing the leading and the power of the Holy Spirit. Testimonies break down suspicion and opposition as effectively as anything. I know of a European country where relations between the Catholic Church and the Free Churches have improved in an amazing way due to the Catholic archbishop in etfect giving his personal testimony to the Free Church leaders. 

The Centrality of Praise and Worship
Worship is the ordinary context of charismatic testimonies, which in turn are expected to issue in praise and thanksgiving. If God is to be central, worship has to be central. For it is in worship that we express our deepest convictions about God and come before and into God's presence. This has shown me how important it is to experience one another's worship, for it is in its worship that each Christian community exprcsses its deepest reality and self-understanding. This thought links up with much that the Methodist Geoffrey Wainwright has emphasised, for example in his book Doxology. This affirms a basic instinct of interchurch couples that it is important to take part in the worship of the communities of both partners. It also emphasises the importance of family worship, with the many challenges this poses for interchurch couples. 

Gifts and Ministries
The charismatic movement has seen an explosion of gifts and ministries that is I believe very significant for church life and ecumenical relations. We find coming alive the lists found in Eph 4: 11 (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher), in 1 Cor. 12: 8 - 10 (including gifts of healing, of prophecy, of discernment, of speaking in other tongues), in Rom 12: 4 - 8 (less well-known, but including prophecy, service, encouragement, helping others in need, leadership, showing mercy). We also find other ministries and services appearing not found in those lists, e. g. of intercessors.

The re-emergence of a wide variety of gifts and ministries contrasts sharply with the prevailing model of a of all trades" ordained ministry, where the priest/minister is expected to do everything that is regarded as "ministry". I think the prevalence of this pattern across the churches encourages the emphasis on "validity" - do I/does my church have IT, that is, authentic ministry. An awareness of the great variety of giftings and ministries across our churches can lead to another source of enrichment through interchurch maniages. 

I would mention in particular that there has been an extraordinary blossoming of intercessory prayer in the last fifteen or more years. I see this as highly significant. I do not believe that major break-throughs in problem areas happen without significant prior intercession and prayer. This may be a question for you to take up in AIF within next year's conference theme of spirituality in interchurch families. 

Relating the Charismatic to the Received Heritage
For me, entering into a charismatic pattern of faith-experience introduced a new awareness of immediacy in relation to God, Jesus, Spirit. But as a Catholic, it was necessary for me to relate this to all the forms of mediation within the Church, especially its sacramental life, and through fellow-believers. Here it seems to me important to affirm both the necessity of a directness of relationship to God are God's sons and daughters) and the necessity of mediation (in our bodiliness). It is important to avoid a false dichotomy. On the one hand, only directness is valued and mediation is regarded as "merely human"; this devalues the Incarnation which is the model for direct and mediated relations and leads to supelticiality when the "spiritual life" is not earthed. On the other, direct relationship and communication is held to be impossible and we only go to God through others on ealth, through signs etc; this leads to spiritual aridity and deadness. 

1 mention this particularly here because I have sometimes found that groups that gather together on the basis of shared human relationships (such as all groupings for married couples) can easily emphasise more the encounter with God through the other. This is indeed real. But the direct encounter of both with God in the risen Christ (which I believe grounds the Christian charaeter of the "horizontal" encounter) needs to be given its due place. 

The Necessity of Repentance
I think that one of the major reasons for the sense of impasse and lack of dynamic movement forward in the ecumenical movement is a lack of repentance by our churches towards each other. There can be no fundamental change in any relationships without repentance for the sins that have spoiled and damaged the relationships. 

In Jeremiah, we read (twice in effect: 6: 14 and 8: 11): '"They dress the wound of my people as though it is not serions" This would seem to be applicable to many of our church attitudes within the ecumenical movement. We have been divided so long that it seems normaL We do not think of our churches as having wounds in need of healing. 

The need to say "'Sorry!"' to each other is a normal part of healthy family life. In our churches we need to take responsibility for our wrong directions, our distortions of the Gospel, our prejudices, our grave neglects. For example, the Catholic Church needs to say sorry for our neglect of the Bible, for our feartuIness in allowing the faithful access to vernacular Bibles, for all the theology that owed little to biblical inspiration. I am conscious that three major areas associated with strong Catholic distinctiveness - the eucharist, the papal primacy and Mary were all given as gifts for unity. Yet we have made them subjeets of seandal and causes of division. An acknowledgement of this and a heartfelt apology for it would liberate other Christians to address these areas/gifts without fear and suspicion. Interchurch couples can explore their particular role in a growing expression of church repentance for our past sins, sins of which perhaps they as interchurch couples are especially conscious. 

The importance of the Jewish people for ecumenism
As I have corne to understand more about the irrevocability of God's covenant with the Jewish people (see Romans 11: 29), a position now expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I have seen that the God-given foundation for unity was the union of Jew and Gentile into "one new man" (Eph 2: 15), in which the Gentile believers become "co-heirs. co-members of the one body and co-sharers in the one promise in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 3: 6). In this perspective, it becomes apparent that the loss of thc Jewish church, indeed one may say its suppression, was a major wound in the body of the Messiah, the wound that opened the door to the wounds of all subsequent divisions. 

It would seem that the union of Jew and Gentile as the foundation for unity gave the church a kind of bipolarity. with each pole oriented towards the other. Jews were oriented towards the Gentiles because it was intrinsic to the Jewish calling that they were to be a blessing to all nations. Gentiles were oriented towards Jews because it was only through being included in Israel and their Messiah that they became palt of the people of God. It would seem then that the loss of this bipolarity created the possibility of patterns of unity with only one pole that became oppressive, dominating and self-regarding.

I have increasingly been led to see that our lack of a living eschatology - lack of a vibrant hopc for the coming of the King and of the Kingdom in its fulness is a major weakness in the life of the churches and in the ecumenical movement. I was led to see this I believe by the very dynamic of the Holy Spirit who is given to us as "first fruits" to awaken the taste and the longing for the fulness to come (see 2 Cor I.: 2l 22; 5: 1 5). It also beeomes obvious when we understand that the hope of Israel is still the hope of Israel (see Cathol ic Catechism, heading of para. 674). 

In Ephesians, Paul speaks of the "one hope" (Eph. 4: 4). 1 believe that this has to be one of the strongest reasons for eucharistic sharing because the eucharist is preparing the one future for all God's people. Without a strong faith in the God-appointed and God-promised hope of the Lord's coming, the Church lacks a strong forward dynamism and easily looks back more than it looks forward.

Eschatology is also important because it is only with the Second Corning that our salvation will be complete with the resurrection of the body, and the new heavens and the new earth. There is a strong connection between Israel- church body - resurrection. There must be many ways in which these connections ring bells for married people, especially those concerned with the relationship between marital union and ecclesial union.

Peter Hocken