Ecumenism in action in Everton

So what difference does ecumenism make asks Rev Henry Corbett, Rector of St Peter's C of E church in Everton and a member of the Archdiocesan Ecumenism Commission.

Does it really make a difference on the ground or is it just about more meetings, conferences, talks and no action?

In West Everton without the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches working together we would not have Faith Primary School at the heart of our community and we would not be enjoying the remarkable 'In Harmony' music project transforming people’s lives.

The story of the Churches working together goes back in my experience to the 1970s.  Local Christians from the Roman Catholic churches of St Francis Xavier and the Friary and from the local Anglican Church of St Peter’s found themselves working together with others from the West Everton community on a range of community issues.  Housing was top of the list with our housing being described by one visiting Government Minister as 'the worst in Western Europe' as he visited crumbling, damp maisonettes on the old Arkwright Street estate.  Other issues were the vital need for paid jobs and for better health facilities in an area with terrible health figures.  Local people’s wisdom again and again was being ignored, and from both a theological (every person made in the image of God) and a pragmatic (more sensible to listen to local wisdom than ignore it) point of view local Christians were part of a group that wanted those local perspectives and concerns listened to and addressed.

But the group of Christians from the Friary, St Francis Xavier's and St Peter’s reflected that they worked their faith out together on all these social issues but they did not worship together or read the Scriptures together.  They were not celebrating together their motivation for their action, a God passionately concerned and involved in our mixed up, needy world.  So they got together to read the Scriptures and pray together and out of that came our first Churches together Good Friday service held at 11 am in St Peter’s with St Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church community from nearby Scotland Road joining in too.  The service was set up by and led by lay Christians from the four churches.

That was back in the late 1970s, and from that group and that service has grown increasing ecumenical working together through the difficult and at times traumatic years for people in West Everton and on to the present day.  The working together continued to be on issues of justice and social action, and that agenda remains as central as ever.  The 1980s saw the Militant Council produce regeneration plans that took no account of local people’s concerns, and the churches working together supported the community and West Everton Community Council in the battle to keep the community alive and to transform the housing in the area from tower blocks and maisonettes to good family housing and a sheltered scheme for the elderly which the elderly themselves helped design.

In more recent years the community has battled to save our Primary School, and part of the saving plan was for the school to become a joint Roman Catholic and Church of England School, Faith Primary.  In January 2011 the staff and children will move into a new school built on the site of the old Campion High School and part of the school’s new facility will be space for the brilliant 'In Harmony' music project, a partnership led by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and based on the El Sistema project in Venezuela, where each child in Faith Primary School plays a musical instrument.  Ecumenism has been a vital part of the West Everton story of the past 40 years and will continue to be so.