Ecumenism is an inseparable part of the mission of the church to spread the Good News about Jesus Christ, a group of worldwide Anglican Church delegates was told recently.
Bishop Mark Dyer of the United States said the necessity for ecumenism - ultimately the unity of all Christian churches - comes from Jesus' words to his disciples the night before he was crucified, when he prayed that his followers might be one "in order that the world may believe."
Bishop Dyer told the 80-member Anglican Consultative Council meeting here that Christian unity is a sign to the world of the Kingdom of God. Consequently, he said, disunity is also a sign to the world, one that makes it hard for people to accept the gospel when churches can't themselves agree on the essentials of the religion.
The bishop said Anglicans have an especially important role to play in ecumenical discussions because of their ability to work and pray together as a worldwide church, although their is no central authority. The 36 major regional divisions of the Church are self-governing and have widely differing practices in a number of areas. They are held together by a common underlying theology and in their fundamental styles of worship.
Rev. Dr. Don Anderson, retiring ecumenical officer for the Anglican Communion Office in London, outlined for the council the work the church is involved in with other churches.
He particularly noted that talks are underway in several parts of the church throughout the world with the Lutheran Church. Although details differ somewhat, within five years, Anglicans will be in communion with Lutherans in Britain, northern Europe, Canada and the U.S. as well as possibly in Brazil and several parts of Africa.
Anglicans are also involved in in-depth talks with Methodists (whose founders included Anglican priests), Roman Catholics and several Orthodox churches.
In response to the presentations, concern was expressed by several delegates to the conference that local churches, including clergy, are often unaware of agreements and decisions made by their own church bodies. In particular, it was noted that in some parts of the world, Roman Catholic churches are unaware of the close connection between them and Anglicans.
Delegates urged that ways be found to communicate high-level talks and agreements to the local level, where it matters most in terms of Christians living together in harmony.
Irish primate Archbishop Robin Eames of Armagh said that he and recently retired Cardinal Daly, Roman Catholic bishop of Ireland??, had been conducting talks in private for some time. He said the discussions were vital if Ireland is to ever cease fighting.
Delegates were also told of the various important interfaith talks that the Anglican Church is involved in, including Middle East discussions involving Christians, Muslims and Jews; and the close workings between Christians of various denominations and people of several other faiths in India, China and Indonesia.
The Anglican Consultative Council meets every two or three years and its members come from each of the 36 provinces of the Anglican Communion worldwide. There are 70 million Anglicans in more than 161 countries around the world and they look to the council for guidance on major issues facing the Church today.