Sarah Finch reports on the Churches Together in England Forum held in Swanwick in March 2022.

[New City Magazine – May 2022 page 6-7]

Forum is an opportunity to be encouraged by the diversity and depth of Christian witness in England, and to be enriched by forging new relationships and connections.

Churches Together in England (CTE) Forum

More than 300 delegates from CTE’s 52 national Member Churches, Bodies in Association and partner organisations met to discuss the theme ‘Reconciling Hope: A broken church for a broken world’ – viewed through the lenses of racial justice and the climate emergency. I somehow found myself in Swanwick as part of the Church of England delegation due to someone else not being able to go! On the CTE website it claims that the Forum ‘is the broadest representative ecumenical gathering of Christians in England’. Having experienced it I would vouch for the veracity of this statement. It was diverse in almost every way you can think of, and this diversity was celebrated. Where else might you find yourself at breakfast with the Archbishop of Canterbury, at lunch with Pentecostal Bishop Mike Royal (the new General Secretary of CTE) and at supper with Cardinal Vincent Nichols? The representation of young people – from all Churches – was impressive, as was the age range and cultural mix, with worship of all flavours.

We must learn to disagree well

CTE President, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, spoke on reconciliation in a post-Covid world. He urged the Church to embrace its diversity and, ‘where we disagree, we must learn to disagree well… look outwards and respond to the crises that surround us, with the love of God that is within us, and with the unity that can be reached between us.’ He asked how can we talk to the world about reconciliation when the Church is so divided. He talked of the need for reparation, repentance, reconciliation and forgiveness. A great acronym was used: WWJD – What Would Jesus Do. How does Jesus look on diversity? In the parable of the good Samaritan we see love and respect Jesus shows when faced with ‘difference’.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, in his response to this address, talked about acknowledging, accepting and celebrating difference, and that ‘on this prayerful journey we can be transfigured – into the likeness of Christ’. We are called to rejoice in our diversity, there is diversity in the Trinity. The essential truth is that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

Integral Ecology

Tearfund Global Advocacy and Influencing Director, Canon Dr Ruth Valerio, addressed the question of reconciliation with the earth. She said facing the climate emergency is an integral part of the Christian faith. ‘We need to get hold of God’s love for the world. In Genesis 1: 31 “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”’

Professor Anthony Reddie and Rev Dr Tessa Henry-Robinson spoke on reconciling communities. Professor Reddie demanded that the Church confront its collusion with the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade. Dr Henry-Robinson challenged individuals to think where they found themselves – as oppressors or following Jesus’ way of justice, hope and peace.

Orthodox theologian Dr Ralph Lee reminded delegates that, ‘as we seek to understand one another better, deep listening helps us overcome the difference in our language and traditions.’

War in Ukraine

During the gathering the Forum attendees made two statements on Ukraine. The first, calling for the immediate cessation of hostilities and for churches everywhere to campaign for an end to the war in Ukraine. The second, appealing to the UK government to support the churches offering welcome and sanctuary to Ukrainian refugees.

A bigger table

As Forum drew to a close the new General Secretary of Churches Together in England, Bishop Mike Royal, was commissioned into his role. He addressed Forum with his vision for the Church across England:

‘We’ve got to build a bigger table to gather around and listen to the voices which are often not heard. We need to raise a new generation of ecumenists. And to be ready to respond practically and relevantly to the needs in the world that God has called us as Church to serve.’

Making a difference

A long journey was made in a short time (just two and a half days). The difficult questions – the elephants in the room – were openly faced and talked about: these being primarily race and gender issues. At different points during the day we met in our home groups: Each group comprised of about eight people, so there was a chance to share in depth, and continue the conversations started in the main hall. As time went on one could palpably feel the unity grow.

The concluding session left me with many striking images:

  • We must deconstruct walls and build bridges.
  • We are mosaics coming together to build the bigger picture.
  • When we are reconciled to God – we are one.
  • When we are reconciled with each other, diversity is OK.

I think above all, we were left with a sense of our oneness, and that it was up to us to get out there and make a difference in the knowledge that we can achieve more together!

Photos(3): ©CTE Forum 2022 Press

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