Unity and Identity of IEF. Discussion Summary
It is hardly possible to retell in fulness a discussion, to present adequately the rich variety of voices, approaches and mentalities, differing ways of how to express shared beliefs. In our International Ecumenical Fellowship, this richness and variety has always been one of our most precious gifts, and is still giving to our fellowship its characteristic flavour. To present a summary of a discussion on different levels, on the grassroot level of the regions as well as in the meeting of regional representatives in the General Assembly, in a concise, necessarily shortened form, inevitably means a loss of a kind. To link the moments of instant understanding for the other, coming closer to one another, to sentences and definitions, can therefore only be an impoverished „shadow“ of the original.
After 45 years of common ecumenical pilgrimage, with the „promised land“ of reaching full visible unity of christian churches shifting towards the more distant horizon, we felt the need to think together about following important questions. How do we as IEF see/envision the full unity of the Christian Church? What is the identity of IEF? What does the old motto of IEF „Living Today the Church of Tomorrow“ mean for us now?
Several texts has been used as an inspiration for the discussion: the document of the WCC „Called to be the One Church“ from Porto Allegre 2006, the lecture given by Mary Tanner at our international conference at Brighton 2011, papers from the international president Kate Davson and from Béla Széchey, president of the Hungarian region. However, the main focus was not on the work with these texts, but on the reflection of our experience in IEF, of experiences of all members of our Fellowship.
The summary of the discussion will have the following structure. In its first part, a common answer to the three fundamental questions combines all points that are either recurrent, or complete and develop each other. Without formulating a single and uniform answer, the voices of the regions and their members are sounding in harmony. In the second part, each of our 10 region brings its own specific contribution to the central theme.
As Common worship has been one of the most important parts of IEF life since its beginning, we concentrated specifically on the question of the ecumenical Lima liturgy of 1982. It has become a symbol of reunion in the problem of the Eucharist. The question whether to celebrate this ecumenical eucharistic liturgy regularly at our international conferences has proven to be divisive. Without reaching a final solution, we discussed our experiences of celebrating the Lima liturgy.
We are aware, as one of the members of the British region, Revd. John Sclater, has remarked, that „There is a wisdom which cannot be put into statements.“ A lived wisdom, that will forever elude us. Maybe a glimpse of this lived, experienced wisdom can be found in this summary.
- Our common answer
I.1 How do we envisage the full unity of the Christian Church?
Full unity as eschatological – openness and equality – unity in reconciled diversity – healing of the wounds: solidarity of the wounded – dialogue in mutual respect – unity rooted in faith – communion in essential areas
The full or complete unity of the church is an eschatological category, different from the full unity (pleroma) of God and his creation. The full unity of the church is both a gift and a task. It requires a mutual acknowledgment of ordained ministries, sharing of the Eucharist at the same table by all Christians, a church where the differences in doctrine and ministry should not be considered as divisive.
Openness and equality are the very first prerequisites of any unity. The road to full unity of Christian churches cannot come about without a total openness towards one another, in all aspects of life: worship, understanding of the biblical message, all kinds of diaconical service in the world. To achieve such a level of openness requires getting to know each other, listening to each other, try to understand each other as deeply as possible, building fellowships in prayer, mutual trust and love.
Full unity does not mean uniformity: a unity in reconciled diversity is a better description, a federation of churches accepting and respecting one another´s ministries, sacraments, and creeds without necessarily agreeing on every detail. The church of the Lord should always retain the diversity of liturgical forms, spirituality and forms of understanding. To iron outthe differences forcibly brings death, in nature as in the life of Christian churches.
As in New Testament times, early Christianity and the Ancient Church, unity is not the same as uniformity, but is lived in a dynamic diversity. Temporary, experimental forms of unity, without imposing necessity of full identity of opinion, with openness to small, but important changes and improvements, belong to this phase on the road to full unity.
Such unity in reconciled diversity presupposes reconciliation, healing of the wounds of the past. In history, differences have often led to estrangement, the drawing up of boundaries and even to acts of violence. Healing of the wounds establishes a „solidarity of the wounded“, that might become a dynamic factor of unity.
Dialogue, exchange of spiritual gifts, can only happen in mutual respect, acknowledgment of tradition, mentality and „otherness“ of the partner. We believe that such a dialogue, indispensable for full unity of the church, can with special advantage be led from a grass-roots level.
Unity is lived in faith; to have hope for full communion is to be faithful to the call of our Lord, that all may be one so that the world may believe. Unity of the church is rooted in the unity of the Trinity and is supported and fed by a constant reference to the Word of the Lord. The different churches and denominations do not possess unity in themselves, but in fellowship with their Lord Jesus Christ, with the triune God calling them into being through his word and through the sacraments. The closer they come to their Lord, the closer they come to each other.
The unity of the church as communion in essential areas: one apostolic faith, one baptism, that is mutually recognized, a bond of unity and peace among Christians, the Eucharist celebrated together, as the invitation to the table of the Lord is addressed to all Christians and it is the Lord Jesus Christ himself who invites them.
I.2 What is the identity of IEF about?
A place of unofficial dialogue – friendships lived in continuity – overcoming barriers – laboratory of ecumenism – bridging gaps and creating links – prayer and worship
Being a fellowship, a group of individual Christians, faithful to their various churches and from different countries, IEF creates a place of unofficial dialogue, a meeting place, where there are no hierarchical differences. All members, lay and ordained, have equal space and live on equal terms. IEF is a movement, not a structure, a horizontal, not a vertical line in the great scheme of the church, weaving together the vertical and the horizontal.
IEF enables meetings, that are lived in continuity. This gives the ecumenical friendships in IEF special durability and depth, as its members live together through the years and through the ups and downs of ecumenical events on the global scene. Through constant and continuous communication with other Christians, their/our faith is refreshed and strengthened. The warm and welcoming atmosphere, so characteristic for IEF, is a fruit of the strong and durable commitment of its members, commitment to friendship in a very deep sense of the word.
Dialogue means overcoming barriers, both in the sense of communication and language, and of different church allegiance. IEF has always striven to overcome the obstacles of language and culture and divisions springing from them. Divisions between clergy and laity, between different churches and denominations, as well as between nations and cultures are broken down. People from different cultures with different languages are invited to share. There is a freedom to be ourselves in loving mutual respect for all whom we encounter.
The life of IEF can be described as a „practical Christianity“, or, using another metaphor, a „laboratory of ecumenism“. Ecumenical achievements and breakthroughs are shared, discussed and lived together. The members of IEF then spread these ideas and approaches to their own locality, acting as „messengers/ambassadors of unity“ or „local veilleurs“ (observers in ecumenical matters) in their parishes and communities.
In its specific non-hierarchical and unofficial form, IEF can act as a link between various ecumenical organizations, networking with them and creating new opportunities to meet and share. It has also an important role in bridging the gap between theologians, who are involved in very specialized discussions, and grass-root members of the churches, who often do not know all the details of the theological arguments. Bible study as well as lectures on Church history, spirituality and ecumenism are a constant part of IEF conferences.
Prayer and worship are at the core of IEF. To get to know different church liturgies, in prayer to be invited to discover their spirituality, is an essential part of that „practical Christianity“ characteristic of IEF.
I.3 Living today the Church of Tomorrow
a model for the future – being on the move – being bold – doing what is already possible – free conscience – promoting Eucharistic hospitality – always increasing understanding of one another
Although the old motto of IEF „living today the Church of Tomorrow“ is today accepted with some reservations, it still retains its dynamic character. To be a model for the future, a lived reality that is hoped for, a challenge to the present situation. The principal critical voice says that the future belongs to God, not to us; we neither know what the Church of tomorrow will be nor how our future world will be.
We can only be ‚on the way‘ to the future, preparing ways for the Lord. To live today for the Church of tomorrow, to prepare today the church of tomorrow means to be on the move, to be on pilgrimage. To be on the move means to be bold, not to lose sight of the founding vision. This boldness can also be described as prophetic responsibility, courage to remind and even challenge our churches to work ever more effectively for visible unity.
To ‚live today‘ means to do what is already possible – to pray together, to read and meditate over the Bible, to celebrate together all kinds of worship (liturgy of the Word and of Holy Communion, Renewal of Baptismal Vows, Healing and Reconciliation services, Creation liturgies etc.). It is also important to be open to the reality of the world, to social and environmental problems. Charitable work and development of social conscience are also part of the mission of IEF.
To the specific vocation of IEF belongs the opportunity to share the Eucharist together during a service of different church traditions, as a model of tomorrow. This should always be done according to individual informed conscience, in full awareness of all sensitivities and consequences. To promote Eucharistic hospitality remains one of the major goals of Ecumenism and therefore of IEF.
On the move forward towards unity as reconciled diversity, it is vital to understand each other always more deeply. „Living today“ means living ever closer to fellow Christians, accepting the effect their culture has on their faith. Personal encounters, lived with patience and over many years, offer an opportunity for such fruitful exchange of specific gifts.
- Some specific contributions
IEF as model of ecumenical meeting; a movement, not a structure. „IEF has an important place in many people´s lives as a place where the interweaving of structure and movement can be experienced and lived in a special and unique way.“ A freedom to be who we are, with a mind of our own. „IEF cannot be bottled.“ (British)
It is important to be always in contact with the representatives of the official churches, to „awaken firmly and tactfully“, „shake“ the hierarchies of our churches, informing them about ecumenical breakthroughs, often unknown or ignored (like the Dombes Group, France). (French)
More emphasis should be put on the local and regional level, with periodical visits of „messengers/ambassadors of unity“ both from within a region and from abroad. Form temporary, experimental forms of unity, without forcible ironing out of differences. (Czech)
Commitment to fight together for social justice, for protection of the environment. We should join in gestures of solidarity and social action, to be the voice and space of structural change. „Society expects united Christian answers to questions of humanity.“ (Spanish)
Do not renege on our own statements; with prophetic responsibility remind the churches to work more effectively for the visible unity of the Church. Eucharistic hospitality should be the norm. Visit only such services of churches in which intercommunion is possible. „Live and act as if unity were already there.“ / Desmond Tutu (German)
What is the responsible approach? Not to aim too high, be aware of our limitations – in time, resources, theological knowledge. Make the fellowship work – the importance of languages. (Belgian)
Our attitude to modern trends in society: examples – secularization of public spaces (presence of the cross), ordination of women; IEF as a laboratory of the contemporary world, not just of ecumenism. Three keywords: knowledge, relation, prayer. (Polish)
Internal, not just external unity among Christians – to get to know each other better. Accent on personal prayer in small groups. (Slovak)
Full freedom of conscience. All decisions must follow the freedom of conscience. Independence and equality indispensable. (Hungary)
Hospitality, as expressed by the rite of sharing of blessed bread (antidoron) after the liturgy. Symbol of attitude toward the other. (Romania)
III. Lima Liturgy: a Case Study
suggestion: celebrate ecumenical Lima liturgy regularly – reservations from the regions – recommendation to celebrate this symbolical celebration of unity – other ecumenical liturgical expressions – Lima liturgy not a definitive expression, but a step forward
„At international conferences, apart from the denominational Eucharistic services, it is suggested to have a Eucharistic celebration according to the ecumenical Lima Liturgy.“ (IEF, On Eucharistic Sharing, 2007)
The ecumenical eucharistic Lima liturgy, fruit of the work of the WCC Commission on Faith and Order (1982), has since become a symbol of unity in one of the most crucial questions. The debate on whether to celebrate the ecumenical Lima liturgy regularly at international IEF conferences has revealed some considerable differences in experiences and approaches in the respectives regions, but on the other hand also a possibility of overcoming them and coming close to a common understanding.
The major reservations to the Lima liturgy, as expressed by some of the regions (French, Belgian) were: the text of the liturgy has not yet been approved by the Roman Catholic Church. To celebrate such a liturgy would make a false impression that a point of common consensus has been reached and that there are no more problems, which is not the case. Celebration of the Lima liturgy might discredit IEF in front of official authorities of the churches that have not officially accepted it. The text is very similar to the Roman Catholic rite, but can only be presided at by the ministers of Protestant churches. The Lima liturgy therefore appears to be wholly inclusive, but in fact is not.
The discussion has contributed to clearing up of some of the critical points. There are now no serious dogmatic problems concerning the text of the liturgy, which is wonderful and theologically harmonious. The Lima liturgy can be celebrated by ministers of many churches and denominations (although not all of them). There are examples of common celebration, when even Orthodox priest took an active part in the celebration (not presiding it). No Roman Catholic priest can celebrate the Lima liturgy without the consent of the local bishop. It is necessary to make every effort to obtain such consent. The problem of ordained ministries is at the root of the difficulties with the Lima liturgy, which cannot be solved inside IEF, but only at the official universal level.
The existing suggestion of celebrating the Lima liturgy at international conferences wherever possible was positively endorsed. For many members from all churches and denominations it is very important to get to know the Lima liturgy better, its theological content, the context in which the liturgy was proposed and for the first time celebrated. Therefore it was proposed to have a workshop on the Lima liturgy at the next international conference.
On the other hand, it has also been stressed that concentration on this specific ecumenical liturgy should not inhibit the creation of other forms of ecumenical liturgical celebrations. Creation liturgy, liturgy of Healing/Reconciliation, Renewal of Baptismal Vows, non-eucharistic distribution of the blessed bread – these and more should also be studied, celebrated and accepted.
Lima liturgy, although an unique event in ecumenical history, is not a definitive expression of a consensus, but a step (though important) on the way. It should be treated as such, with great attention to its richness and beauty, but with similar attention to other forms, and with openness to the future. That is and should remain our aim.
Summarized by Filip Outrata, 2012