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Westminster Diocese brings ecumenism to the masses

posted on 01 February 2005
The new season of ‘At Your Word, Lord’ is the largest experiment in Christian unity ever carried out in England and Wales

The Diocese of Westminster is this weekend launching the largest experiment in Christian dialogue ever carried out in England and Wales.

All over the capital city and Hertfordshire, thousands of Catholics in parish small groups are inviting local Christians to join them in a six-week Lenten course of Scripture reflection and discussion.

The initiative, under the banner “Together We Can!”, is being backed by church leaders including the Secretary of the Free Churches group and the Anglican Bishop of London.

The Rev. Geoffrey Roper and Bishop Richard Chartres have asked their vicars and ministers to recommend that members of their congregations join up with Catholic groups for Season IV of Westminster diocese’s renewal programme, known as “At Your Word, Lord”.

About 18,000 Catholics in 170 parishes across the diocese will next week begin meeting in small groups. They have invited members of local Anglican, Methodist, and other Christian churches to join their weekly meetings to reflect together on materials prepared by Westminster Diocese’s “At Your Word, Lord” team.

The materials – scripture passages and questions for discussion, as well as meditation books – have been designed to reflect the Lenten theme of reconciliation.

Meanwhile, a newspaper sent to all Westminster Catholic parishes lists one-sided ways in which Catholics see other Christians and vice-versa. It invites participants to examine their prejudices by talking with each other and praying together.

The initiative comes at a time when “official” dialogue between the Catholic and Anglican Churches has lost momentum.

Both the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, have spoken in recent months of the importance of the “ecumenism of life” – ordinary Christians meeting togther to talk and pray.

The historic initiative has met with an enthusiastic response from other Christians.

The parish of St Luke’s in Pinner, which has 450 regular Catholic parishioners, has signed up 62 people from other churches. Several members of other churches have been appointed co-leaders of Pinner’s faith-sharing groups.

One parish, St. Joseph's in Wealdstone (Middlesex) said it had has issued invitations to all nine Christian churches in its area.

Fr Stuart Wilson, a former Anglican priest who is director of the “At Your Word, Lord” programme, said his office was overwhelmed by the demand for extra books

One parish in west London had asked for 70 extra course books for non-Catholic participants. Another parish, in Hertfordshire, has asked for 95.

Fr Wilson said he was delighted at the take-up.

“We’ve asked each parish in the diocese to discover what links exist with other Christian churches in their area, and to make new ones. The response from the non-Catholic parishes to the Catholic ones has been terrific. We’re grateful to Christian leaders across the diocese who have encouraged their congregations to take up the invitation from our parishes.”

Fr Wilson continued:

“We are learning that Christian unity is not just for professional theologians. It’s the responsibility of everyone to make it a reality. This season opens up the chance for dialogue between Catholics and non-Catholics in the daily life of the parish.”

He said the impact of this experiment in Christian unity would be felt in the diocese for a long time.

“Members of our parishes are beginning to realise that there is a need to reach out, to share stpories and to search of a new way of being united Christ. The impact of this in future years will be immense. It is allowing the whole diocese to have a new confidence, and to be open to the challenges of the future.”



QUOTES

+Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster:

“Now, more than ever, the Holy Spirit is calling is not so much to official dialogue between church leaders but to what is known as an ‘ecumenism of life’. This means all of us, whoever we are, and wherever we are, are called to come together in prayer and discussion and work for the Kingdom with our brothers and sisters in other Churches. That is why this is such an important season, for the Church in general and for our diocese in particular.”

Rev. Geoffrey Roper, Secretary of the Free Churches Group

If Catholics invite Christian neighbours from the Free Churches into faith-sharing groups this Lent we shall see it not as a penance but an enrichment of the time before Easter. At our Lord’s Word we shall seek his Kingdom. Moving to meet the risen Christ together there will be much to discover, but most of all to discover one another as His people.”

+Richard Chartres, Bishop of London

“I very much welcome this initiative … It is obviously important for all Christians in modern London to be active in seeking out other members of the household of faith so we can confront some of the common challenges to the Gospel and together seek to be an expression of God’s love for all the citizens of London.”
Notes:
• “At Your Word, Lord” season lasts six weeks. Groups meet once a week, usually for an hour and a half. The first season was in Autumn 2003.

• Based on a sample of 77 parishes, average attendance per parish in Season III was 80, with parish small groups averaging around 9 people.

• Some parishes are happy to give interviews. For names and contact details, please contact Austen Ivereigh.
Contact Details:
Austen Ivereigh
Diocesan communications officer
Telephone: 020 7798 9045 or 07905 224860

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posted on 01 February 2005

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