On Saturday, I took part in the 25th Anniversary Service for ACTS – Action for Churches Together in Scotland. We gathered in the magnificently-restored Catholic Cathedral in Glasgow to tell the story of the journey so far and to pray for unity.
It has become fashionable to say that we are in something of an ecumenical winter. I understand why people might say that. But I don’t altogether agree with it. When ACTS was established 25 years ago, churches were institutionally stronger – now things don’t feel quite so secure and there is an element of institutional exhaustion around. I often think fondly of the remark which Archbishop Donald Caird suddenly dropped into a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Church of Ireland. ‘Why are we institutionally tired? Because we walk around on tip toe all the time trying to be bigger than we really are’
But we are gradually learning how to move in ways which are appropriate for today. Not so much on tiptoe – but certainly more fleet of foot. We learn to do a lot with very slender resources. We are less denominational and less institutional. And we are learning to prioritise mission and to focus our resources to that end.
I’ve said before that I have always stayed away from formal ecumenical relations and the bodies which manage them. I always got the feeling that people felt that they were dealing with the formal diplomatic relationships of nation states.
I came away from Saturday’s 25th Anniversary Service asking myself how a body like ACTS might be shaped for the future. I suspect it needs to learn the same lessons as the churches. That means for me a post-institutional ability to see convergences and possibilities – to identify where churches might benefit from working together and where resource-light churches might support one another.
And what might be on my list? Well it would be things which are about mission and growth and which are foundational for the churches in the next generation. That means identifying areas of convergence in the training of clergy and lay ministers. And education for discipleship. And shared local mission – for we all struggle to achieve national coverage. It’s what the Church of Scotland calls its territoriality debate. And there is the whole area of how faith communities handle the dialogue between themselves and wider society ….. And many more