Address by Bishop Richard Clarke, Bishop of Meath & Kildare and President of the Irish Council of Churches, at St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Armagh, as part of the WPCU
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2011
Extracts from the address given by Bishop Richard Clarke, Bishop of Meath & Kildare and President of the Irish Council of Churches, at St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Armagh, as part of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2011.
‘It is not advanced psychology to say that people will not willingly change - will not move – unless they are deeply and sincerely dissatisfied with where they are and there seems to be no alternative but to leave where they are. We have to ask the question on an evening like this as to whether we are satisfied with where we stand at present, as splintered traditions within the Body of Christ, whose witness to the country in which we live is undoubtedly being compromised and even demeaned by our disunity. If we are satisfied with where we are, then the basic integrity of an occasion such as this is most called into the most serious question.
‘…Virtually all the Christian traditions that have a sacramental tradition recognise the baptism of other traditions as being baptism into the One Body of Christ, and hence something which transcends the limitations of our own particular tradition of the Church … Would a statement of the deepest of all unity not be made if at the celebration of baptism in one particular tradition (in other words even on occasions where we were not speaking of parents belonging to different traditions), members of other Christian traditions were there by proper and official invitation to celebrate the event, representing the wider Church, so that the reality of the entire Body of Christ was symbolised in the celebration? It clearly could not be a feature of every baptism in every church building, but if we believe (as indeed we claim to believe in our creeds) in One Baptism, here is an opportunity to proclaim a unity that we already have in Christ.
‘We [should] make it a principle, so far as we can, that as Christians we will not study the Word of God in denominational isolation from one another, separate from members of other Christian traditions. No Christian tradition owns the Word of God, and no Christian tradition has a monopoly on the right interpretation of the Word of God. All of us are called to sit humbly under the judgment of the Word. Surely we are called to sit together under the Word of God. There are indeed bible study groups that are ecumenical in scope, but this should be the only type of group that studies the Scriptures in fellowship.
‘…There is another step that we should be able to take structurally as well as haphazardly … pastoral care of others in the name of Christ. …There is, I am sure, no priest or pastor of any tradition, who has not felt moved and humbled when asked directly to give a blessing to a Christian of another tradition, whether in a hospital ward or in a place of bereavement or even in a friend’s house. …[Can we ] take the simple step of committing pastoral care of some people to those of different Christian tradition that their own. It is not an anomaly when it happens. It should be both common sense and good ecumenism. The pastoral care of God’s people (and by that I mean all God’s people, both inside and outside the man-made walls of the institutional Church) should never be restricted in any way. It can certainly be made more effective.’
Bishop Clarke concluded, ‘…The only motivation, the only dynamic for our moving out into an ecumenical future that will be an adventure rather than a duty, is love, the love of God for each one of us and, in response to that perfect love, our true love for one another.’