Virtual meeting but concrete witness – CTE Enabling Group March 2021

CTE held our first Enabling Group of 2021 on 11 and 12 March. It brought together individuals representing Member Churches, Bodies in Association and intermediate ecumenism (churches working together at a county level).  CTE Trustee Dr Elizabeth Joy reports on the two days…

Our spring Enabling Group (EG) was, due to the coronavirus regulations, held virtually once again. While last October was our first online experience; this time we were ‘experts’. And although we didn’t meet in person I was very excited to discover in the opening informal session that one of members in my group lived nearby. An ecumenical connection for the face-to-face future!

The highlights of this EG meeting were:

I. Hearing about the active engagement of CTE’s EG members, National and County Ecumenical Officers and others in a range of COVID Vaccine webinars, encouraging people to be informed about the vaccine’s benefits. We also heard that Pastor Agu Irukwu, CTE’s Pentecostal President, had welcomed Prime Minister Boris Johnson to a vaccine pop up centre in his church Jesus House (RCCG).

II. CTE’s Strategic Plan was the core focus of this EG. CTE’s General Secretary Rev Dr Paul Goodliff introduced the document and stressed that it follows the commitment and combined contribution of CTE’s 50 Member Churches, regarding where CTE needs to go in future.  The research That they all may be one, carried out by Theos from 2016-2017, and adopted by the EG in 2018, had asked CTE’s Member Churches to review the strengths and weaknesses of CTE, and share dreams and visions for our future as churches working together. The new strategic aims discussed at EG in 2021 seek to bring these visions to fruition. CTE’s continued commitment to this process is clearly shown through the road map laid out, with the Trustees (written in brackets below) introducing the following strategic aims to the EG:

Aim 1: To inspire Member Churches to work more closely together in mission (Victoria Turner)
Aim 2: To find new ways to support regional and local ecumenism (Jenny Bond, staff member speaking in the absence of Doral Hayes)
Aim 3: To find new ways to extend CTE’s valued role of relationship-building (Elizabeth Joy)
Aim 4: To create more opportunities for churches to do theology together (Callan Slipper) 
Aim 5: To increase the capacity of CTE to speak into the public square (Amanda Allchorn) 
Aim 6: To strengthen CTE’s own vision of its role and make this more widely known (Amanda Allchorn)
Aim 7: To develop the work of racial justice for CTE and its Member Churches (Moses Owusu-Sekyere)

After the introduction of the aims, EG members discussed the following two questions in breakout rooms: 

1. How well does the work outlined in the whole of the Strategic Plan resonate with the priorities of your Church? 
2. How willing would your Church be to undertake the work ecumenically? In what ways? 

EG members’ feedback was reported back and issues were teased out in detail through group discussions.  In his summary of these discussions, CTE’s General Secretary Rev Dr Paul Goodliff highlighted several themes, including:

  • The aims are deeply rooted in biblical principles and teachings of the Church such as mission (including the fifth mark of mission – care of creation)
  • Time and again, our rootedness in local expressions of ecumenism was explored, with concern that what we do nationally should find its expression locally 
  • Two foundational tasks were identified:
    1. Building the relationships that will strengthen our pilgrimage together (with the image of relationships as the lubricant which allows the  body of Christ to walk easily)
    2. Theology – growth in mutual understanding as we listen to one another carefully, talk and explain.
  • All of this needs communicating in some way – to one another and to the wider world

The CTE team, led by Paul, is now putting together an updated version of the Strategic Plan, which will be then be signed off by the trustees and become a working document, regularly reviewed and updated. 

III. A new project – the Bill Snelson Bursary Fund – has been instituted to support young people to accomplish ecumenical studies at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute, Geneva. The fund has been established in memory of CTE’s former General Secretary (from 1997 to 2008) Bill Snelson, who passed away in December 2020. CTE welcomes contributions for this fund towards the formation of young ecumenists for the present and the future. 

IV. Appointment of Dionne Gravesande as Moderator of the 2022 CTE Forum (a major event taking place every 3-4 years). In her report to EG, Dionne mentioned that the overall theme would be reconciliation, with three sub-themes – reconciliation of communities, reconciliation with God and reconciliation with the earth. 

V. British Kirchentag, Christians Against Poverty, Linking Lives UK, Single Friendly Church and United Society Partners in the Gospel were accepted as new Bodies in Association of CTE.

VI. The EG accepted the application for CTE Church membership from the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East. A majority of Member Churches now need to agree to membership over the next three months.

VII. Re-imagining intermediate ecumenism – a discussion of the challenges facing churches working together at a county level.  The team presented two particular challenges – that of involving New and Independent Churches, and also the challenge of seeing diversity represented at a county level. 

Paul Snell (County Ecumenical Officer for Devon), explained how church unity operates at a county level. Claire Crowley, County Ecumenical Officer in South London, shared some practical ideas for being intentional about increasing diversity at a county level. She explained that in Churches Together in South London, when a vacancy arises for their Enabling Group , they intentionally look for those who are underrepresented – for example a woman or a person of colour, or someone with disabilities or neurodiversity – even if this means that the position remains vacant for several years. “We need to bring on board something other than what we’ve already got, or we won’t be designing programmes and activities that are relevant for the diverse communities in South London,” Claire explained.

Last but not the least, coming together in worship at the beginning and close of the two days’ EG meeting is something that we all look forward to.  Our unity in diversity is enriched as we understand and appreciate each-others’ traditions.  We began the opening prayer with Rowena Loverance, our Chair of Trustees, leading us in remembering all those suffering from COVID and its impact in various forms, including the death of loved ones.  She also focused on the Green-faith (PowerPoint slides) as 11 March was the International Day of Climate Action.  Alina Taylor (Wesleyan Reform Union) led the closing devotions that evening. On 12 March, David Hoskin led the morning devotions in the Orthodox Tradition and it was nice to remember Saints of the Day that also included Saints in UK. Rowena Loverance and the outgoing Quaker (Religious Society of Friends) EG member Mark Lilley led the closing devotions. 

This EG meeting will stand out for its work paving the path for the future of CTE through engagement with its Strategic plan.  And for the rich and diverse cultures and traditions who participated, deepening relationships and enhancing mission and witness amidst the COVID pandemic.

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