Thursday, 15 October 2009

Anorexic ecumenism or voluptuous ecumenism - what's your profile?

In recent years Bishop Wolfgang Huber chair of the EKD Council in Germany and others have been talking up the idea of a "profile-based ecumenism" or an "ecumenism of profile". I've been thinking about this in relation with some of what I have been hearing at the Faith and Order Plenary Commission meeting over the past week.
I'm still not quite sure that I totally understand what an ecumenism of profile really is nor whether I am convinced that it is really ecumenism. Meanwhile, discussion at Faith and Order often came back to the call to unity, "to call the churches to the goal of visible unity in one faith and eucharistic fellowship," which is so much part of the mandate. In Mary Tanner's paper she also posed the question:

Did the move to convergence methodology mean that we left the comparative method behind without realising its value and the particular contribution it might still make? The latest encouraging impetus in what is called ‘receptive ecumenism’ relies heavily on the comparative, rather than the convergent method.
Is comparative ecumenism more about profile, is profile-based ecumenism about using the wider ecumenical forum to simply say who you are? Do we use convergence and consensus methodologies too easily to gloss over not having bothered to learn about our real differences and possible commonalities?
I suppose I'm concerned about all of this because one of the trends I can see is that churches make more and more demands of the ecumenical space at the same time as being less able or willing to make the same commitment to it - either in terms of time or money - as was once the case. Is the hidden ecumenical goal of some of our churches today a sort of "extra-light ecumenism" : light on commitment, strong perhaps on affirming one's own profile within the forum? I can see that in both of the churches I am a member of - in order to survive in their own contexts churches may choose to promote identity, profile or brand perhaps - but as they do that what happens to ecumenical commitment, which was often quite low on teh agenda in many churches anyway?
In writing I feel I should also say I can see some of this strange dynamic around ecumenism at work in myself as an ordained woman. What does it say about me and my ecumenical commitment that I often feel that if I wore a dog collar I would be taken more seriously in the context I work in?(I have never worn a dog collar except once as a student to a fancy dress party) I suppose if I did that would be my way of showing profile, perhaps what we want and expect from ecumenism is also changing.
So what about voluptuous or fuller-figured rather than extra-light ecumenism? What would it look like - methodologically, practically, theologically? I wonder whether voluptuous ecumenism might try to include a truly interdisciplinary approach bringing together comparative, consensual, prophetic, convergence, receptive and divergence ecumenism into a lively and continually diverse forum where valuing relationships can help us listen, speak truth in love and continue involvement in this transformative conversation. But then I was ever the optimist.
Perhaps what is needed is some form of reconciled relational diversity or as Metropolitan Geervaghese Coorilis said at the meeting a poetic attempt to do ecclesiological and ecumenical work from below. You can read his excellent paper here, in it he focuses on the land struggle of Dalits and Adivasis at Chengara and uses that to challenge a top down form of ecumenism:
[the Faith and Order text] "The Nature and Mission of the Church" is to be congratulated for its philosophical imagianation but needs to be complemented with sociological and poetic imaginations where the text (the Word) takes on flesh and enters the realm of the pain and pathos that the poor and their earth endure.
Which takes me back to Wolfgang Huber who in a recent address to the CEC assembly seemed to be moving from insistence on profile to some ideas about the ecumenical indicative (as opposed to the ecumenical imperative, telling churches what to do). This makes me think that somewhere along the line the conversations we are having with one another are more transformative than we perhaps realise. Our way of understanding ourselves and other is changing through knowing one another.
So what's your ecumenical profile, extra-light or voluptuous, imperative or indicative, philosophical or poetic, comparative or convergent, exegetical or prophetic, institutional or relational ...
I suppose I just hope that we continue to commit ourselves to looking after the spaces where we can have transformative conversations, perhaps then we will see a transformed ecumenism.