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This article was published in the Summer 2000 issue of The Journal.

Unity by stages

In her John Coventry Memorial Lecture (see pp.10-13) Dr Mary Tanner shows how there has been a failure, in Anglican-Roman Catholic relationships, to keep advances in theological convergence and practical steps forward in line with one another. The Malta Report of 1968 envisaged unity by stages, each stage being entered into on the basis of agreements in faith, which would form the foundation for mutual recognition from the highest authorities, and lead to a binding commitment to live closely together in many practical ways. Now that so much agreement in faith has been achieved, we must re-capture the vision of Malta, and church leaders need to move into mutual recognition and a binding commitment to live together in practical ways.

Anglican-Roman Catholic couples, who have made such a binding commitment to live together, will echo the hope that the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church will clearly and intentionally enter into a new stage of relationship. It will not solve all our problems. Any binding commitments entered into by human beings are fragile, and need to be kept in constant repair. We know that from our own experience of marriage. Progress will still be slow. No magic wand can settle questions of eucharistic sharing nor the problems faced by young people growing up in interchurch families (see pp.8-9), however urgent they seem to us. But a public commitment on the way to full visible unity is immensely important, provided it really leads to living together in practical ways. Re-commitments, like wedding anniversaries, are important in marking milestones and as occasions for celebration.

Before they set off for the meeting of Catholic Presidents and Anglican Primates in Toronto in May, the English Association of Interchurch Families wrote to the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster, two of our Presidents, to assure them of our prayers for the Toronto meeting. We wrote:

“As grass-roots practitioners in the field of Anglican-Roman Catholic relations, we rejoice in this world level meeting. We do not know whether the subject of mixed marriages will be on the agenda of the Toronto meeting, as was suggested in The Times in February 1999; but we assure you of our deep desire both to be supported by our churches in our vocation as partners and parents, and also to offer to our churches what we can from our experience of living together in one family.

“Our Free Church members join in the prayers of Anglicans and Roman Catholics, since progress towards unity between two traditions is progress for all. We join you in the prayer of Christ our Lord that all his disciples may be one, as he is in the Father and the Father in him, that the world may believe.”

Ruth Reardon