1910 to 2010
Edinburgh 1910 saw the birth of the modern
ecumenical movement, but why did it happen in Edinburgh? Scotland,
intellectually and culturally, had a strong tradition of internationalism
stretching right back to the Celtic missions. This international
perspective was promoted by leading Scots theologians and
church leaders. This was coupled with the strong missionary
ethos of 19th century Scottish Protestantism, which in addition
to evangelism was concerned with modifying the economic imperial
expansion of the British empire. This engagement in mission
led to the churches being willing to support a World Mission
Conference, rather than leave it to mission agencies. Finally
Scotland was experiencing rapid change in both church and
society which stimulated a sense of wider vision in the churches.
In 2000, John Pobee (Ghana) visited Scotland
and challenged the Christian leaders to mark the centenary
of 1910. Over the next few years an ever-widening circle of
mission thinkers and activists recognized that 2010 was an
occasion for great potential and that collaborative action
was required. In 2005 an international gathering was held
in Edinburgh from which key themes for mission in the 21st
century emerged. These include foundations for mission; mission
in an interfaith context; mission and its relationships to
post-modernity and power; forms of missionary engagement;
theological education; contemporary Christian communities;
mission and unity and mission spirituality.
It was also recognized a focal point to the
centenary was required and this will be held in Edinburgh
from 2-6 June 2010. The work of Edinburgh 2010 is co-ordinated
through its website: www.edinburgh2010.org
The intervening years
From the 1940's to the present day three particular
threads have developed in the ecumenical landscape of Scotland.
From the so-called Bishops Report, (an Anglican/Presbyterian
report in 1956), through nearly 30 years of Multilateral Conversations
(1967-1994) involving six Churches in Scotland, to the Scottish
Churches Initiative for Christian Unity (SCIFU -1996-2003)
many doctrinal issues were addressed. This has resulted in
greater understanding of our different traditions and an increasing
discovery that there is much theological agreement between
the churches. The fact that this has failed to produce a scheme
of union, upon which all could agree, is based not on any
antagonism between churches as realising that unity is more
than creating some grand plan. It lies in recognising unity
as possible within difference.
At national level two bodies emerged in the 1950's producing
great energy and vision.. By the beginning of 1960 this became
enfleshed in the opening of Scottish Churches House in Dunblane
- a Conference and Retreat Centre which "the Churches
held in common and where they could begin to learn to grow
together to serve Scotland." By 1962 Scottish Churches
Council was established with most non-Roman Catholic Churches
as members and a number of associated ecumenical groups and
organizations. This led to many nationally sponsored activities
- e.g. Lent courses, youth work, outreach work in communities,
which soon mushroomed with local councils of Churches throughout
Scotland co-operating in joint worship and action. In 1986
a UK-wide Lent course was the catalyst to new 'instruments
of unity' which for the first time included the Roman Catholic
Church. So Action for Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS)
came into being in 1990.
The Prophetic Voice
This third thread is the one that is the more difficult one
for Churches to live with. Yet without it ecumenism would
lose its cutting edge. As Churches grew closer together, ecumenism
provided its own prophetic action. Christian Aid reflected
in its work both the practical expression of compassion for
the world's hungry, but also, the prophetic words of protest
for justice in the world. The Iona Community that has always
had a strong ecumenical commitment has openly challenged the
Churches and the World on their disunity and injustice. There
have been prophetic moments as when in 1982 on his visit to
Scotland Pope John Paul II said "Let us walk together
as pilgrims hand in hand."
Ecumenism in recent years has widened to an
inter-faith context, and to Christian witness in a more secular
and multi-cultural society. What its history in Scotland has
illustrated is that to meet that challenge we need to hold
these three threads in tension. It is not a choice between
them. For it is only when they interact with each other that
there is created the theology, the co-operation, and the prophetic
voice, which lies at the heart of an ecumenical vision.
The following are expressions of the present
ecumenical dialogue in Scotland.
The Joint Commission on Doctrine of the Church
of Scotland and Roman Catholic Church
This bilateral dialogue has proved to be a rich source of
blessing. Its most recent document is entitled "Baptism:
Catholic and Reformed" which summarises progress in understanding
common baptism, but which also invites further reflection
on what this means for the mission of the Church today. The
Joint Commission is an example of positive ecumenical theological
dialogue, and shows both individuals and institutions are
willing to listen seriously to one another. The Joint Commission
is currently studying the healing of historical memories and
the doctrine of sanctification.
The EMU strand
Following the end of the Scottish Churches Initiative For
Union, three denominations made the commitment to explore
ways of working, serving and witnessing together. Thus the
EMU conversations were born. Representatives of the Scottish
Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed
Church meet twice a year to discover ways in which nationally
and locally we can do those things together that need not
be done separately, and are delighted as people with particular
responsibilities explore and identify how cooperation can
grow, for example in education and training.
Developing relations with ethnic minority Christians
In 2007 churches in Scotland marked the Bicentenary of the
Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. This became a catalyst in
developing closer relationships between the traditional churches
and growing number of ethic minority Christians in Scotland.
The Scottish Churches Racial Justice Group now has representatives
from African Churches and Asian Christian Fellowships. These
churches are organising themselves into a body to further
relationships amongst themselves and with the traditional
churches and ACTS.
The Churches of Scotland have also recognized that Street
Pastors are a mission initiative spreading throughout Scotland.
Teams of trained volunteer Street Pastors from local churches
are available late at night in town centres to offer words
of advice and practical support, to people out and about.
The Church and Parliament
The Churches of Scotland are also engaging the Scottish society
in the ecumenical endeavor. The Scottish Churches Parliamentary
Office (SCPO) was born out of the churches' engagement in
the process that brought the Scottish Parliament into being.
Having found they could work together , churches set up SCPO
to enable them to engage as effectively as possible with the
Parliament and Government in Scotland - not to set a party
line, but to ensure that a conversation takes place and that
the voices of the churches are heard.