Receptive Ecumenism

In 2006, the Centre for Catholic Studies, whose director is Paul Murray, organised a conference on Receptive Ecumenism at Ushaw College, Durham, in order to test out some of its principles with respect to Roman Catholicism. This conference was set up as an exercise principally for Roman Catholic theologians and ecumenists to engage with other traditions. Three years later, a second conference has taken place from 11th to 15th January 2009, including delegates from many traditions: theologians, ecumenists, and local practitioners to engage with each other on this subject. This second conference was much wider in scope than the first, and represents a second stage in the development of this idea.
Receptive ecumenism is offered as a way forward, at a time when it appears that ecumenical progress has slowed to a stand still, and when neo-denominationalism is asserting itself in many of the major traditions. While full visible unity of the church may be still an ultimate vision, the present climate suggests that an interim strategy is needed to help Churches to continue to be engaged with one another, and to make some progress. Paul Murray writes in an introductory paper for the conference:

“The basic principle of Receptive Ecumenism is that considerable further ecumenical progress is indeed possible but only if each of the traditions, both singly and jointly, makes a clear, programmatic shift from prioritising the question, “What do our various others first need to learn from us?” to asking instead, “What do we need to learn and what can we learn – or receive – with integrity from our others?” Alternatively stated, the John F. Kennedy style reversal that is in view here (cf. “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”) is from asking “How might they become more like us so that divisions might be eased?” to asking “How might we become more like them in diverse particular ways so that any specific difficulties we experience in our own thought and practice might be eased?” As this suggests, Receptive Ecumenism is about each tradition taking responsibility at every level of its life for its own continued learning and potential further flourishing in the face of the other.”

Murray, P. Receptive Ecumenism and Ecclesial Learning: Receiving Gifts for Our Needs. Louvain Studies 33 (2008) 30-45
Such learning, according to Murray, is transformative, and is intended to lead to openness to other traditions, as well as to the convergence of traditions. It involves much more than offering a way for the Churches to receive ecumenical agreements, although that of course is a vital process, but engages Churches in face of and across the differences between them. In this respect, the deep seated organisational and cultural differences between Churches are as important as Faith and Order issues, and indicate a need for receptive ecumenism to be explored in a practical way in the arena of the local Church. This is reflected in a further strand in the programme of Receptive Ecumenism, which is a project to explore the implications for local Churches in the North East. Part of the conference was given over to a presentation on this project by its leaders.

This post was taken from Churches Together in England. Please visit that website to view the full post, with a more detailed report on the conference.