'Better Together' receives encouragement from Archbishop

By Ultan Russell

I remember the days when Lent was doubly busy with the usual Lenten and then Holy Week activities of a Catholic parish, plus events with neighbouring churches – Lenten groups, united services on Good Friday, Easter processions, etc. Inevitably these have been severely curtailed this Lent but throughout the Archdiocese ecumenism is vibrant, notably via the network of foodbanks which are normally managed by churches and Christian organisations which recruit hundreds of committed volunteers. Covid has seen worryingly high increases in food bank usage, so that is one key area where ‘Better Together’ is the mantra.
‘Better Together’ also applied last year when Archbishop Malcolm agreed a new remit, title and constitution for the Archdiocese's Ecumenism Commission, which duly became the Commission on Dialogue and Unity. Archbishop Malcolm then met with the Commission before Christmas and underlined his support for, and commitment to, our work on interchurch partnership, interfaith dialogue and social justice. He stressed, and challenged us to emphasise, that these key areas were not optional extras but rather central to our life and our work. It was also vital for us to reflect regularly on documents from the Second Vatican Council related to these issues and many that had been produced subsequently.

Of course, the Archbishop had the opportunity of working with the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor when serving on the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) which had published a document on Mary; prayer and worship had been pivotal to the meetings and the representatives of the two churches had grown together. The resulting loose-leaf worship resource book proved an enriching resource for all members, and the fact it was 'loose leaf' served as a reminder that we all needed to adapt.
Archbishop Malcolm reiterated a comment made by Cardinal Cormac which he knew was reflected in our Commission’s work: the road of ecumenism is a highway that has no exit. He challenged the Commission (and every priest, deacon, school, parish and lay association) to prioritise this, continuing the analogy by challenging us not just to walk along the highway but also to help lay down the paving slabs to expand it.

Coming to Merseyside was therefore a great joy for him – to serve as a bishop in one of the areas where ecumenism had such a high profile internationally. He remembered with affection the leadership of Bishop David Sheppard, Archbishop Derek Worlock and the Rev Dr John Newton, and was delighted that those strong bonds of trust continued in the Church Leaders’ Group today. ‘Better Together’ is part of our DNA.
The Archbishop reminded us, however, that we must neither be complacent nor rely on structures. The path to unity is a responsibility for everyone. The practical aspects of ecumenism are particularly apparent at present, notably in response to the Covid crisis and the broad-based and intensive engagement in foodbanks, debt advice and pastoral care. To that can be added major ecumenical initiatives like Liverpool Hope University and the range of ecumenical team ministry in industry (notably via Mission in the Economy), prisons and healthcare. Organic unity may not be something to achieve in our lifetime but that cannot be an excuse for not seeing our ecumenical journey as a high priority. It is important that our theology of dialogue is rooted in the documents and traditions of the Church.
Going around the Archdiocese, the Archbishop was overjoyed to identify vibrant ecumenical partnerships. However, he also identified the dangers of being both complacent and at times inward-looking with the internal problems facing all denominations. Another challenge was the erosion of respect for faith combined with ignorance. The lack of recognition and respect for all religious traditions was a challenge, and all of us must give that priority. These should be important matters for the Commission to consider and work on during the next few years.
So that is my challenge as Commission chair, and in the months and years ahead I want to celebrate all that is being achieved throughout the Archdiocese on Christian social action, interfaith relations and interchurch partnerships. Contact me at u.russell@rcaolp.co.uk