The vision is remarkable, fruitful and of God
That is the conclusion of Churches Together in England's review of the ecumenical endeavour in Cumbria. Cumbrian ecumenism is the fruit of its history and is based on strong relationships honed in major disasters over the years. The Churches had pulled together in their service of local communities, earning the respect of secular authorities and deepening their desire for Christian unity.
Outstanding ecumenical generosity
The review noted the challenges facing Cumbria including vast geography and tiny numbers. It recognised the size of the diocese of Carlisle compared to the other Churches in Cumbria and suggested that comments about this were the 'sound of the small confronted with the large'. The review paid tribute to the outstanding ecumenical generosity of the diocese of Carlisle which takes seriously the Church of England's charism to serve the whole community and puts huge resources at the service of all. 'Imbalance is a reality', concluded the reviewers, David Cornick and Jenny Bond, 'work creatively with it! The reality of Anglican strength is a gift for all.'
Is 'Churches Together' dead?
In presenting the review document to the Executive and Church Leaders of Churches Together in Cumbria, and to the annual gathering of Churches Together groups on 24 May 2018, the reviewers said that they had expected to conclude that developments towards an ecumenical County in Cumbria and the formation of mission communities spelled the end of the usefulness of Churches Together structures in Cumbria. This, however, was not so. It had become clear that Churches Together structures were still wanted and needed at both local and county level, providing a level playing field for all Churches and able to scan horizons to expand ecumenical relationships. In particular, the review noted that although many people were tasked to work ecumenically in Cumbria, only Churches Together in Cumbria uniquely had the task of working towards Christian unity.
Social Responsibility work is the jewel in the crown
The review paid particular tribute to the work of the Social Responsibility Forum in Cumbria, recognising that its work over twenty five years was the key to the enormous respect accorded to Churches Together in Cumbria by secular authorities. It had also facilitated and enabled local Churches Together groups to become proven vehicles for social action together in response both to emergency situations and also to ongoing needs.
The way forward, suggested the review, was a 'mixed economy' of structures, all working in partnership with each other, alongside and overlapping yet not duplicating. Each place would need something different and must be allowed to develop accordingly. In this the role of Churches Together in Cumbria was crucial.
In conclusion the review stressed that kingdom building, which is what was happening in Cumbria, involves challenges and difficulties but is also blessed by God. The Churches in Cumbria were doing all they could, constantly pushing at the boundaries of possibility. 'Trust in God and remain faithful to the vision' urged the reviewers. 'Only God has the map; we make the path by walking.'
God is doing great things here
Sarah Moore, President of Churches Together in Cumbria and Area President of the URC Cumbria Area said: 'This report confirms the fact that rumours of the death of ecumenism are greatly exaggerated! Here in Cumbria we are working hard to engage in mission together as we hold together the covenant partnership between the Salvation Army, the United Reformed Church, the Methodist Church and the Church of England outworked in God for All and the wider relationship between all of the member churches of Churches Together in Cumbria that is grounded in our long-standing and well respected engagement in Social Responsibility. God is doing great things here!'