Rev David Baker on ecumenism
September 6, 2022
Rev David Baker
What is your role and what do you do? What are some of the key pieces of work?
I’m General Secretary of Queensland Churches Together. QCT’s vision is to see “the church in Queensland serving, witnessing, praying, and working together”. QCT’s purpose is to resource the church, and create pathways for collaboration and Christian unity.
We promote church unity by fostering deeper relationships – supporting the gathering of church leaders for prayer and reflection, running ecumenical prayer services for Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Season of Creation and other seasonal times. We are looking to develop courses and workshops on the ecumenical journey for those training for ministry.
QCT has established an Ecumenical Chaplaincy Network that supports cooperative work in chaplaincy (we’re currently developing a disaster response chaplaincy). We also resource collaboration in terms of engagement with government.
Our areas work include: collaborating through the Qld Churches Ecological Network, supporting the revitalisation of local and rural Church networks, and supporting the churches’ involvement in inter-faith relations in Queensland. QCT also oversees the Joint Churches Domestic Violence Prevention Project, which builds the churches’ response to Family and Domestic Violence. We also run training and workshops on pastoral care, and other issues regarding the health and well-being of Christian communities.
What’s your understanding of ecumenism as part of the identity of the Uniting Church?
Paragraph 2 of the Basis of Union establishes the UCA essentially within the wider church, and prioritises for us a deep commitment to working together and seeking union with other churches. We have a mixed record on that. In the discernment on the ordination of women, we demonstrably took very seriously how the wider church saw this issue, and we consciously decided, after prayer and biblical reflection, to ordain women, even though the overwhelming majority of churches at the time did not. Our more recent decisions on ministry and marriage have not demonstrated that ecumenical commitment as much as in our earlier days.
The UCA is a peculiar church; we do have as a part of our story of faith and obedience the letting go of treasured faith traditions for the higher calling of manifesting, however provisionally, the call that the church may be one. That’s a gift yet to be fully appreciated by the wider church in Australia. In my experience, it brings with it an underlying posture that’s akin to receptive ecumenism – a readiness to honour other traditions as valid expressions of Christian faith, a willingness to respect their ministry, and appreciate the gifts they bring. The UCA must be mindful of demonstrating its deep commitment to ecumenical dialogue and listening to the wider church in its own deliberations.
What’s the future of ecumenism?
Institutional ecumenism has certainly hit some walls; the capacity of faith traditions to find themselves able to fully recognise other traditions has meant that conciliar ecumenism has slowed somewhat. Traditional ecumenical bodies seem now more interested in collaboration on issues rather than exploring the path to deeper unity.
Yet there are new avenues opening up.
Significant parts of the Pentecostal and Evangelical traditions are looking for greater engagement and collaboration with the so-called “mainline” churches. This is a developing space. It may be partly due to the increase in Pentecostals looking more deeply at the treasures of faith in the story of the church over the past 2000 years.
There is a sense in Qld that the wider social environment, and our churches’ membership generally, expects greater collaboration, and is less tolerant of divisiveness and exclusiveness amongst the churches. Being in an increasingly multi-faith environment puts our internal differences into a different perspective. The ecumenical bodies need to evolve, but they need to continue to find ways to keep the churches’ feet to the ecumenical fire!