Anglican Bishop Gregory Cameron reflects on blessings of ecumenical efforts

 — Jan. 20, 201320 janv. 2013

The first event of a new ecumenical speaker series was held in Saskatoon Jan. 19, on the eve of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, as Anglican Bishop Gregory Cameron of Wales presented a morning ecumenical workshop about “Lessons learned in ecumenism.” Named in honour of local priest Rev. Bernard de Margerie, the “De Margerie Series on Christian Unity and Reconciliation” is organized by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon and Saint Thomas More College to bring distinguished ecumenists from around the world to speak in Saskatoon.

Unless we can recognize what gifts the Lord gives us through the ecumenical journey, we are never going to be able to talk with passion and commitment about why the Church needs to be One.

In addition to the workshop, Cameron preached at the opening worship service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Jan. 20 (see related article), as well as at a lecture at STM Jan. 21, and a ministry workshop at the diocesan cathedral Jan. 23. Cameron began the Saturday morning workshop at St. Anne parish in Saskatoon by describing his earliest ecumenical encounters. Born in southeast Wales and baptized as a Presbyterian, Cameron began attending the Anglican church of St. Cybi as a teenager. He first heard of Catholics upon meeting a friend at school named after a Catholic martyr. He also described coming to a deeper love of scripture by worshipping with friends in a Baptist congregation, and how his ecumenical encounters continued to expand at university.

Ordained in the Anglican diocese of Monmouth, Cameron served in parishes and schools, and was director of an educational charity (The Blosham Project). In 2003, Cameron was appointed as director of ecumenical affairs of the Anglican Communion, later serving as Deputy Secretary General — positions which involved him in ecumenical relations and dialogue at a global level. During this time Cameron worked with Saskatoon Bishop Don Bolen, who before his ordination as bishop worked for several years at the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity in Rome. Cameron was installed as bishop of St. Asaph in Wales in 2009. He is married to Clare, a Catholic, and they have three young sons.

Cameron spoke in a joyful “affective” way about the work for Christian unity – telling stories of lessons he has learned through his ecumenical experiences – rather than addressing doctrine, shared mission or spiritual ecumenism. Through discussion questions, he also encouraged participants to share their experiences of ecumenism.

“I think it is very important to list and to explore the benefits of ecumenism, to celebrate the riches of ecumenical experience,” Cameron said, stressing that such personal experience can be an important answer to those who question the need to work for Christian unity.

“Unless we can recognize what gifts the Lord gives us through the ecumenical journey, we are never going to be able to talk with passion and commitment about why the Church needs to be One.” Cameron therefore explored seven blessings that he has experience on his own ecumenical journey – life lessons from numerous encounters – listing them in seven key words: faith, challenge, joy, nurture, friendship, Christ, and vision.

“The first word I’ve chosen is faith, because my Christian faith has been enormously resourced and enriched by my encounter with other Christians,” he said, describing how praying and worshiping with Baptists – who so greatly honour scripture – deepened his own love for the living Word of God.

“I believe that our ecumenical encounters will give us a picture of the faith which is different to our own, and therefore throws everything in relief,” he said of seeing matters of faith in new and inspiring ways through ecumenical dialogue and experiences. “There is so much that we share in our traditions, that it is when we go to other churches and see the same thing thrown in a different light, that we actually start to learn about the riches of faith.”

It is not that we will necessarily agree with everything that we encounter among other Christians, but even when we do not agree, the experience of respectful dialogue can help deepen our understanding of our own faith traditions and beliefs, Cameron said.

“Wrestling with my friends, in argument, in discussion, in Bible study … really made me think about the nature of salvation, really made me work out for myself what I believe.” During discussion, Cameron stressed the importance of living and speaking respectfully from one’s own convictions, rather than from a place of judgment about what may or may not be part of another tradition.

“What I learned by my ecumenical encounters is that often different churches in different contexts challenge my view about the way in which mission is done,” he said. For instance, travelling to South America as part of his ecumenical work, he was challenged to see the ways in which Catholic congregations were living out the gospel in their work with the poor. “Here the rubber hit the road. I saw ways in which the gospel was being heard and applied,” he elated. “Ecumenical encounters will enrich our faith and it will bring challenge about our mission.”

Wrestling with my friends, in argument, in discussion, in Bible study … really made me think about the nature of salvation, really made me work out for myself what I believe.

Joy is another fruit of seeking Christian unity and of worshipping with Christians from other traditions, Cameron said. “Ecumenical engagement can bring us rich experiences that we never expected … the lovely thing about ecumenical encounters is that you really don’t know what’s going to happen next and there can be serendipity of the most extraordinary kind … the surprise discovery that brings joy.”

“Nurture” is another word Cameron associates with journeying with Christians of other traditions. “Sharing of stories is a very, very important part of ecumenical encounters, because we are genuinely nurtured and strengthened in our own discipleship by the stories of others.”

Cameron added that he has also found friendship through ecumenism. “Being able to find people who share a faith in Jesus Christ around the world makes you part of a family which is reach and diverse, a family where you discover real friendship.”

Christ is also to be encountered in the midst of our ecumenical efforts, Cameron stressed. “The ecumenical journey has been one of recognizing the Lord at work in many different contexts,” he said. “If we approach the ecumenical quest with a readiness to look where Christ is at work, we will find him.”

Finally, the ecumenical journey has brought vision, Cameron said. “Because we believe as Christians that the Church is a community that is called of God, which is brought by God into being, and which is graced by God to live a life of holiness, and a life of witness to God’s love, I believe that you can often get the biggest vision and the greatest inspiration by drawing the widest understanding of the people of God that you can.”

Seeing mission happening in many traditions, in many settings around the world, “you see the ties of a real and deep communion where people can enrich and be enriched,” he said. “Then you can celebrate the fact that God is at work.”

Posted: Jan. 20, 2013 • Permanent link:
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