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Bishop David Hawtin

The invitation is to respond to what Martin [Reardon] has said, "from my point of view". For me, that can be described as Christian believer, member of the Church of England, baptised, ordained deacon, priest, and bishop – with a lengthy involvement in the ecumenical workings of the Church of England, and in ecumenical bodies, particularly Churches Together in England.

First, I want to declare my admiration for Martin, and thank him for all his encouragement over the years.

I offer now three things about the Church of England’s contribution to unity and three things about ecumenical experience.

The Church of England

What we are called to be

Martin asked the question "What kind of unity?", and noted the unease about kissy-kissy ecumenism. His point was that love, which happily has its kissy-kissy moments, is pretty tough – reflecting a toughness of relating; it is about facing hard questions and hard adjustments, where there is strong mutual commitment. This gets me thinking about a very Church of England word: comprehensiveness. We are a very diverse communion; we have gone to enormous lengths to uphold our life together as we move forward on issues such as the ordination of women to the priesthood. The Church of England does not create its identity around its own doctrinal statements. It is not the kind of community which gathers around a formula or slogan. The root of its corporate life is its worship – its gathering around the God made known to us in the person of Christ. Maybe comprehensiveness lived out in a costly spirit is one of the gifts that we bring – diverse believers united in worship.

How we seek to become what we are called to be

The next word is compromise. (I guess we know about compromise in our marriages.) The Church of England knows plenty about compromise, because it seeks to hold together, perhaps by historical accident, a whole range of perspectives which could easily fragment. I am not sure that anybody could now create the Church of England. Compromise is not a device for having your own way, expecting all the people who disagree with you to back off. Compromise is a challenge to remain in costly and maybe jarring relationship. I believe that such Christian compromise is deeply of God – and it cannot be sustained without God.

Thirdly, I want to pick up on what Martin said about that richly elusive word koinonia, which has to be translated by so many English words. Perhaps I can pick on just one of them – relatedness. As a bishop I am heavily into relatedness. I spend a lot of time travelling between congregations and between priests with very different outlooks. I would like to think that this particular bishop could be described in Martin’s phrase as ‘a peripatetic prophet’, maybe even a symbol of ‘cosmic time and space’, which is not a million miles away from the work I find myself doing. Perhaps an episcopal church like the Church of England can bring a gift to our emerging unity by having particular people who are a focus for this kind of relatedness across place and time. It is a relatedness of persons. I do not try to gather people around some common programme. I try to give them a sense of being in Christ and of being a unity of persons, and to say that that is of value in itself. I even dare say on occasions that being together in Christ is a delight, a foretaste of life in heaven.

So these are my three points on the Church of England – the gifts and challenge of comprehensiveness, compromise, and relatedness.

Let us now look at three responses to Martin’s talk around our shared life.

Ecumenical Experience

Those of us who are committed to the journey of Christian unity are very properly the awkward squad. At the beginning of his talk Martin set out the reasons for unity. Yes, but I don’t see the leaders of our churches, nor the local congregations, actually on fire for what is so demonstrably at the heart of the Gospel. Many individuals and many churches are inward-looking for all sorts of reasons. Those of us who are of the awkward squad challenge individuals and churches to look out beyond themselves – to dare to encounter Christians of other traditions. Being awkward in this outward-looking spirit might well be a charismatic gift.

In speaking of koinonia, Martin described it as being ‘irrevocably together’. That gets my mind racing on God as Trinity, for this One God in Three Persons is indeed irrevocably together, indeed eternally together. It reminds me of marriage, where we make promises ‘until death us do part’ – that is pretty irrevocable. Martin described it as ‘a constantly threatened but dynamic reality – growing towards perfection in the Kingdom of God’. That is powerful language. It calls us to vulnerability, reflecting a God who loves and suffers and smiles. Those of us who dare to come out of our denominational corners experience that more frequently than people who stay in corners which are populated only by the like-minded.

I want to come back to the word relatedness. In his talk, Martin reflected on the meeting between Archbishop Runcie and Pope John Paul II, about the call to be ‘affective’ spilling out to being ‘effective’. The drive for unity, whether it is in our personal relationships, or between churches, or in the wider community, comes from our relatedness to God. We are made in his image, and his loving relatedness is shared with us graciously.

Consider a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum is our relatedness to God, at the other is God’s relatedness to the broken world – the broken world which the God of unity wishes to bring to harmony. Our reconciliation as Churches is not some exercise carried out in a sanitised laboratory of ecclesiastical experiment. No, our reconciliation as Churches is forged within the relationship of the reconciling God to his broken world.

Presentation to the Association of Interchurch Families’ annual conference at Swanwick, August 2001



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