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Report to interchurch families on the 3rd Conference on Receptive Ecumenism in International Perspective

Fairfield is over. Memories, reflections and conversations amongst those with familiar faces and those met for the first time remain;  presentations, dialogues, plenaries and panels still juggle within me for space and attention.

Receptive ecumenism: receptive ecclesiology, deep listening, moving away from our own comfort and safety, crossing boundaries, gift, humility, freedom, growth were all words expressed.  Our sin is that we refuse to grow, said one speaker, that we remain within the safety of our own familiarity.

It was a real joy to have first spent 4 days in New York with Joyce from Kenya whom we had met on the list, although we did know David from his visit to Canada several years ago.  It was unfortunate indeed that David could not come and we missed him.  However, there was something very significant in Joyce being able to tell her own story as a woman in the African culture, as a Pentecostal married to a Catholic, that illustrated in a profoundly gentle and gracious way the reality that was being presented through academic and theological presentations.  The expectations that Joyce as a woman would join the man in his faith tradition touched on very real feminist issues.  There were also parallel panels on women and ecumenism, unfortunately we were unable to attend, as we were both taking in other panels.  The “buffet” of choices was so rich and diverse it made selection difficult.

A talk that stayed with me from the opening panel was when Sir David Moxon spoke of receptive ecumenism as the oxygen in mission, elaborating on the conversation between Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby related to their decision to work together in a response to modern slavery and human trafficking.  He described it as the first collaboration of its kind since the reformation, and a recognition that the issue was too big (with some 29,000,000 people being trafficked) for any one church to resolve.  For me, that gave so much purpose to receptive ecumenism in the sea of theological debate.

The two plenaries each morning, with 3 speakers in each, concentrated on different international scenes through the lens of receptive ecumenism.  They provided windows of reality into what is happening on the ground.  They raised my awareness of ecumenism as it relates to the global north and south, seemingly poles apart.  The global north appears always to have felt it led the way, while the global south has always felt like they could do nothing but receive, their own voice consistent unheard, not listened to.  The North American context through the Canadian Anglican-Catholic Dialogue and the U.K context through the research project in Durham were issues we were aware of, if not familiar with.  The Latin American context “Catholic and Pentecostal learning in relation to Mariology”, as well as the Asian perspective, had more meaning because of conversations with Joyce, connecting with the African context too.

The parallel sessions each afternoon provided overwhelming choice.  For both Interchurch family panels the room was full. I think Ray underestimated the numbers as Joyce and I had counted between 20 - 25 chairs, and the room was full.  The value of story was evident, humour as well, as Jeff Wild and Margie Dahl, Joyce Makumi, as well as Rebecca and Anthony Spellacy, told of their journeys and experiences, reinforcing again that human story carries so much power.  Mary Marrocco, a marriage and family therapist, spoke of her experience of interchurch couples and the way they, learning to receive from each other in vulnerability, become prophetic witnesses to the way the churches must come together.  Thomas Knieps spoke of how interchurch couples demonstrated the way to reconcile differences and develop a shared informed conscience which may at times go beyond the institutional rules.

Joyce and I had an opportunity to talk with the priest from the PCPCU who is responsible for the Pentecostal-Catholic dialogue.  Joyce was able to explain that she, having been baptised first in the Anglican church, then later as a Pentecostal, was told by the Catholic priest that before she could marry David, she would have to be baptised again, something she refused to do.  The priest from the PCPCU was emphatically clear that the priest in Kenya was wrong in what he had said. I asked him how we are to communicate with priests such as this, who are clearly uninformed.  I also asked about the 1993 DAPNE, and whether it would be updated.  He said it was not likely that it would be updated, but that we should use it to inform ourselves.  There seems to be no answer to the question of how such priests could become informed.  I came away feeling that we are to use the DAPNE to inform ourselves, and to act according to our conscience.

The experience reinforced, for both Ray and I, the importance of interchurch couples continuing to press the issues both through personal story and academically, and never to lose hope.  The fact our presenters were mentioned so clearly on Vatican Radio news and in The Tablet was for both of us a sign of God’s grace at work.

Fenella