The meeting about Barney Milligan's book of this title with the title "Reflections of an unreconstructed ecumaniac" which we advertised in January's Pilgrim Post, duly took place as arranged and led to a very lively discussion The book's sub title was " Reflections of an unreconstructed ecumaniac" : so it was not surprising that the discussion centred on the issues of unity, both for the churches and in the wider human/political field. In a short introduction the author pointed out the appropriateness of meeting on that date - just after the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and when the papers were full of stories about the future of the E.U.
At an early stage the name of Tom Corbishley was mentioned - he had been a teacher, writer and well known parish priest in the centre of London and he had always taught that church divisions came not so much from theological disagreements - important as they were, and indeed are - as from issues of politics and power.And so for seeking healing of those divisions there was more to it than plunging into tense theological studies and debates Hence his enthusiasm for reconciliation in Europe after the conflicts of the two world wars.After all most of the churches’ divisions had been in the context of European history.
Since the time of Fr Corbishley there have been tremendous changes. New forms of social technology have brought people closer together and, ironically, sharpened our differences. And we have also been made much more aware - and , again, with strongly contrasting consequences - of other faiths, especially Islam. It was against this background that Barney invited us to address the issues raised in his last chapter - What Next ?
The signals in that chapter had been linked with particular characters and the way they saw the scene - e.g. the poet Shelley declared that the poets were the "unacknowledged legislators of the world." And the Russian writer Solzhenitsin had believed that "Russia" - that hugest and most centralised state "would be saved by her villages." Did the small countries, the villages, the little people have more influence and wield more power than we or they ever suspected ? Those at the meeting had various views on this. Some thought this could indeed be so: and some felt that the new information technology might be a way of breaking through barriers and influencing the way history evolved. Others were less hopeful, seeing chiefly the dangers.
The awareness of other faith communities was seen to be a key factor. Equally it could be an instrument for building bridges and breaking through barriers; but it could also be a cause of deep bitterness and, as we all know too well, conflict.
The churches' shortage of clergy, congregations and money was discussed, although not at length. Interestingly it was reported that in other parts of the world, there was much more vitality. And the traditional "missionary" movements fron Europe to Africa were now more likely to be the other way round. But some had worries about the more extreme and aggressive evangelicals from Africa - or, indeed from America or anyhere else- whose enthusiasm was refreshing, but who were not much good at listening.
The European story took up less time. But it was widely recognised that the financial and economic problems were in danger of spoiling - even, perhaps, wrecking, - the "dream." Some felt that the E.U. had become obsessed with petty issues.
On the whole, then, an extremely fruitful evening with as much listening as talking. Perhaps "The Bridge" was not a bad title !