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What it means to be Ecumenical

Robert Ashton explores the concept of Ecumenism and shares his personal thoughts on what it should mean.

I’ve just read local author Rebecca Stott’s book ‘In the Days of Rain’ and found that it focused my mind on the meaning of the word ‘ecumenical’; a word I have always found challenging, more so of late as I find myself increasingly invited to be part of ecumenical affairs.
Rebecca’s book tells her story growing up as a child in the Exclusive Brethren. Both her father and grandfather were members. Her family came out when she was a child. The movement, which reviewers have called a sect, grew out of English Protestantism in the early 19th century. A group became dissatisfied with the Anglican Church and formed a breakaway group.
This of course was far from unusual with many more churches formed in the decades following the reformation than survive today. I could see similarities between the church she described and the Quaker Meeting of which I am a member. However, there was a distinct difference, with the Brethren appearing to be as strict and divisive as Quakers are liberal and equal. I also know and respect a number of Jehovah Witnesses and suspect that they sit somewhere along the spectrum between these two extremes.
Recently I visited the ‘Living with Gods’ exhibition at the British Museum. Here I learned that there are an estimated 4,000 religions around the world today, which brings me back to that word - ecumenical. How many of this vast array of religions would be welcomed to an ecumenical event? At a time in history when religious tolerance and understanding has never been more important, ecumenical seems too often to mean a comfortable group of like-minded Christian churches.
The one thing that really struck me at the British Museum that morning was that every single religion is trying to do exactly the same thing. That is to make sense of, strive to understand and if at all possible, have some form of relationship with God. Whilst some clearly worshiped an array of Gods, doesn’t the Christian Trinity suggest that God doesn’t exist in just one form?
Of course, some Christian groups, including Rebecca’s Exclusive Brethren choose not to mix with other Christians. But does that mean the door should be closed?
Is it too simplistic to believe that there is only one God and that however and wherever we choose to worship we should be inclusive, accepting and above all, tolerant? Has the time come for us to redefine ecumenical?

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Robert Ashton 640CF

Robert Ashton is an author, publisher, social entrepreneur and Quaker.
Visit www.robertashton.co.uk


For more about Turnpike Business Centre, Robert’s ethical business centre, click here.



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