Martin Williams, Methodist Ecumenical Officer for Cumbria writes:
Hundreds of people beat a path to Ambleside Parish Centre in Cumbria’s beautiful Lake District on the afternoon of Advent Sunday 2011. They came from all over the county and far beyond not just to witness, but to play their parts in, one of the most significant ecumenical events we’ve seen for a very long time.
This gathering celebrated the pioneering work and visionary Christian leadership which has been putting a part of England usually better known for its lakes, fells and sheep firmly on the map in a quite different way. Many, many people who ache to see for themselves the fulfilment of Christ’s prayer that they may be one “so that the world may believe” came together to rejoice in a significant step towards the realisation of that vision.
At the heart of the service was the signing of a Declaration of Intent by the Chair of the Cumbria District, Rev. Richard Teal, his Anglican Colleague Rt Rev James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle and Rev Richard Church, the Moderator of the North Western Synod of the United Reformed Church. That declaration confirmed our shared belief that this is a kairos moment for the development of Christianity in Cumbria, a moment when “we believe that God has given our three churches a particular opportunity to work together.”
The Declaration may have been made and signed only by the United Reformed, Methodist and Anglican churches of our county, but there was nothing remotely exclusive about its intention. Together we affirmed our intention "to go on praying and working, with all" our fellow Christians, for the visible unity of the Church in the way Christ chooses”. So it was good to hear a challenging message brought to us by Rev. John Goddard, Network Minister for the Baptist Church in Cumbria; it was good to see Rt. Rev. Michael Campbell, Roman Catholic Bishop of Lancaster sharing with Rev David Pitkeathly of the Church of Scotland’s Border Kirk in offering encouragement as they read excerpts from some of the truly encouraging messages of support we’ve received; it was good to be reminded that we are part of a worldwide church as Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches also sent his greetings.
But what is the declaration about? Well it would be hard to read it and not come away with an understanding that from beginning to end it is rooted in mission. That focus becomes explicit at a number of points, but nowhere more clearly than in the first of the commitments we made together, “to seek out every possible opportunity for joint initiatives at local and county level in mission to all the people of Cumbria.” The work we share will take a variety of forms. We’ll be looking carefully at ways of making the best use of our buildings for God’s kingdom purposes. We’ll be seeking opportunities to enable the sharing of both lay and ordained ministries. And in mission planning and delivery there will be much more besides.
We start now. Church leaders at diocesan and district and area levels are already turning their minds to ways of making our shared vision a practical reality. Opportunities will be there to be seized by pastorates and circuits and deaneries. And leaders at local and county level know that they have the whole-hearted support of lay people. As we came into Ambleside Parish Centre we signed banners as visible evidence of our commitment to one another. We left the service in joyful procession behind those banners – singing God’s praise, marching in the light of God. And now we wait with a tingle of Advent expectancy to see where our God will lead us from here…