The word ‘ecumenism’ (in Greek οἰκουμένη, oikumene) means ‘the whole inhabited world’ and is term used by Christians for churches working together to form strong relationships, whilst retaining their own character.
The Church of England strives to ensure friendly, positive relationships with other churches. As the Established Church we are sometimes accused of ‘Anglican arrogance’, but the work to bring churches together on a local, national and international level doesn’t bear that out. It is a member of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, an organisation working towards visible unity between churches. On an international level, the Church of England takes an active part in the World Council of Churches, where the members “are called to the goal of visible unity in one faith and one eucharistic fellowship; promote their common witness in work for mission and evangelism; engage in Christian service by serving human need, breaking down barriers between people, seeking justice and peace, and upholding the integrity of creation; and foster renewal in unity, worship, mission and service.”
The Porvoo Agreement formed a communion of churches, mainly in northern Europe who “share a common life in mission and service” and in practice means that members of each church may receive the sacraments in the other churches, and that ordination is recognised across the communion, so, for example, a Danish priest could be appointed to an Church of England post without the need for ‘re-ordination’.
As well as being members of these umbrella organisations, the Church of England continues conversations with other churches. The Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) was instituted in 1967 where the Churches study together and publish statements on their conclusions. Publications include papers on Authority, the Eucharist and Mary.
The Anglican-Methodist Covenant of 2003 affirmed a common history and common goals, and committed the churches to work together to achieve full unity.
Ultimately, ecumenism for members of the Church of England often works best at ground level. Conversations between friends, co-operation in local projects and joint study groups are often ways in which we can thrive together focussing on the ways we agree, work together for the gospel, rather than being split apart by that on which we disagree.