If it does not already have one, your parish could form an ecumenical small community, or a group for faith-sharing, encounter and exchange, or for some special programme or event. Or an existing group could, where appropriate, be developed and enriched with ecumenical participation. There could even be several groups for different purposes. For instance,
- one task could be to establish and prepare an Advent prayer service or a service of praise at Pentecost
- another could be a service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
- there could be a regular Bible study group, or a charismatic prayer group
- there could be a group for discussing subjects of social, doctrinal or pastoral concern, or a meeting for contemplative spirituality.
All of these can be opportunities avenues for ecumenical exchange and growth. If there are several such meetings or groups in a parish, the parish priest and the parish ecumenical contact may need to consider setting up a steering group to oversee and co-ordinate the ecumenical apostolate within their community.
An excellent resource and advice for setting up small communities and new ecumenical faith-sharing groups is the Diocese’s Agency for Evangelisation, Evangelisation is the work of all the baptised and so it is good that in our Catholic parishes we should also involve and work alongside our brothers and sisters in other Christian churches and communities.
Just as important as inviting Christians of other churches and traditions to join in with activities and groups in our parishes, is for Catholics to join in the activities and groups initiated by our neighbours and friends in other congregations. This can happen informally on an individual basis, but can also involve several people on a formal basis as part of a parish’s ongoing work and outreach.
To make any plans for ecumenical encounter and exchange effective and fruitful, it is vital to involve the priests and the parish leadership, the Catholic lay people who are to be the points of contact and welcome for participants from other local congregations. If there is to be a service, planning also needs to involve the team responsible for the “ministry of welcome”, the organist and musicians, the servers and readers, and the hospitality or catering team.
Whether the group is to be about study, spirituality, the Bible or topical discussion – or even some practical activity or social outreach – the leaders need to feel supported and be offered training and preparation they can rely on. Above all, any group or activity must have a clear purpose, or a defined project in mind, and enough resources to do its task.
Some groups may only last for as long as one project. Others will go on from task to task, idea to idea. Others still will have a more long term mission and purpose. They always benefit when they operate, not as groups of private Christians, or simply as one community’s responsibility, but in dialogue with the pastors and leaders of the various local Christian congregations and ecumenical organisations.
The following is a plan for implementing and sustaining the ecumenical outreach in your parish:
STAGE ONE – Preparing ecumenically in your parish
1. Without fail, always pray for the unity of all Christians in any meetings in your parish
2. Set up a working party of key figures in the parish’s ministry, as well as those interested in ecumenism, to discuss what the parish already does ecumenically, what else could be done ecumenically, and where an ecumenical group (for study, spirituality, social outreach, special events, a service etc) would be a good idea. This working party could meet again occasionally to monitor progress
3. Make copies of the guidance on these web pages available for the Parish Priest and Parish Team, the Parish Ecumenical Contact, and any parish working party or existing ecumenical groups
4. With the help of those who have ecumenical experience:
a) become acquainted with the regional and local agencies involved in the ecumenical journey for Christian Unity (the Diocesan Ecumenical Commission and local representatives, Westminster Interfaith and the Justice and Peace Commission will be especially useful in this regard. See the Westminster Year Book for more details)
b) get to know the history of the ecumenical journey to Christian Unity, outlined on this site, in greater detail
c) become familiar with the ecumenical dimensions of Catholic and Papal teaching
STAGE TWO – Consulting other Christians
5. Arrange a meeting with local ecumenical groups and agencies (e.g. Churches Together, ecumenical ministers’ fraternal). Ask them to place your initiative or initiatives – events, groups, or programmes - on their agenda and arrange for someone from your parish to speak about it at their meeting
6. Decide who the best person is, or who the best people are, to make the initial contact. In many cases it will be a priest or the parish ecumenical contact, but not necessarily so. Otherwise, it is strongly recommended that the parish ecumenical contact or some one similar be present to support and assist representatives of the proposed ecumenical group in your parish, or of your ecumenical working party, in any “start up” meetings with other churches’ pastors and lay leaders
7. The objectives discussed at the meeting should be to:
a) Clearly explain the basis of what you are planning as part of the Diocese’s and parish’s ongoing concern for pastoral and spiritual renewal and Church development
b) Clearly explain your goals and plans and the way in which ecumenical involvement and support is important to them. Explain that to Catholics it is about recognising our unity which already exists through our common baptism but that is also an ecumenical journey towards Christian Unity. It is also about strengthening ties, sharing the Word of God, being empowered by the same Spirit, encouraging and supporting one another, working together in charitable outreach to the poor and marginalised. It is not about proselytising or “sheep stealing”
c) Specifically look at the particular project you have in mind, such as an Advent service or a faith-sharing exchange, a new ‘small community’ or a study group
d) Consult; and begin to establish a strategy of joint participation.
8. It may not be necessary, but if your project or group will be long lasting and could require a lost of involvement and commitment from the various congregations supporting it, it may be wise to set up an ecumenical liaison team for your joint project. It would be very important that each congregation have a representative on it (e.g. the Parish Ecumenical Contact), working in conjunction with the clergy, leadership, pastoral team or ecumenical relations people in their own congregation. The project or group liaison team should meet on a regular basis, in order to make sure the arrangements needed for the launch and delivery of the programme or the event are carried through smoothly.
9. Ask local ecumenical groups for their prayerful support for the programme, event, or faith-sharing or spirituality group. If it is time-limited, or a one-off event, devise and offer a prayer card for it. Alternatively, devise or obtain and offer a general prayer card for unity.
10. Establish a date for any future meeting t