Monday, 23 November 2009

Does ecumenism make you feel at home or does it challenge you?

One of the themes I return to as I take groups of visitors around the ecumenical centre is the theme of being at home and being challenged.
When I first walked into the chapel in the Ecumenical Centre my first reaction was "oh this is like home". I should explain that I grew up - church wise at least - in what is known as a local ecumenical project. Churches came together and built a new building as part of a brand new town centre shopping complex. In it Methodists, United Reformed and Anglicans could worship together, it was open to the community and part of the life of the town. I hadn't realised that our church council came to Geneva before building work began to have a look at the chapel. Not surprising that the layout of the place I worshiped most Sundays was so similar to the chapel of the place I work at the moment, nor that I should feel at home in it.
That sense of being at home can also speak about how at home we feel with ecumenism.
However, if I feel at home in a space will I then assume that everyone else should, will I even notice that some don't feel at home, if some feel at home do they take all the available space, who might be excluded? If I am busy feeling at home - will I even notice the challenge that comes from others who worship Christ differently from me? Without the challenge that comes from seeing that other Christians think, pray and practise their faith differently from the way I do perhaps no glimmer of ecumenical understanding is possible. Today I often wonder what it means when I, a middle aged, rich woman from the dying churches of the North, feel at home in the ecumenical space - be it the chapel, a meeting or an event. If I maintain my presence in the ecumenical space who might not want to come in, who would feel very uncomfortable? Does it also condemn ecumenism to being something taht is dying?
Lots of questions.
When it was first built the ecumenical centre chapel was really quite Reformed, certainly quite Protestant. Gradually several icons, an inconostasis, an Indian oil lamp, an Armenian cross and much more besides have come into that space. The iconostasis in particular was a real challenge to some Protestant sensibilities when it first came in (I remember Fred Kaan moaning to me about it when he knew we were moving to Geneva).
On the positive side I suppose the Protestant space could be seen as open - a canvass open to all to add their influences. Yet I do wonder alot about many of the assumptions behind that. Assuming that the Protestant space can essentially be adapated to be an ecumenical space is quite a dangerous supposition. Do we suppose we are somehow more "naturally ecumenical"? I know how cross I sometimes get in France when Catholicism expresses itself in a way that assumes it is the only ecumenical space available or when the Church of England assumes that other churches don't need to be taken into account much. Perhaps as a Protestant part of the challenge is that I need to be able to see how unecumenical I can be too.
I suppose what I'm trying to say is that it is sometimes hard to hold on to the dynamic ecumenical interface of feeling at home and feeling challenged - being sure enough of oneself to want to encounter others and be challenged by them.
Understanding and unity are important. For them to have any chance of flourishing we need to come up against and alonside one another. As we open ourselves up to feeling at home and challenged by one another we need to keep our eyes open to notice who is not there. We need to realise that the way we converse and do business in the ecumenical space excludes many.
So are you at home or challenged ecumenically?