Auckland Bishop Stephen Lowe has called on Christians to “re-commit” to ecumenism, and continue to work for reconciliation and unity.
Bishop Lowe made the call at the Liturgy of Repentance and Reconciliation, held by the Methodist- Catholic Dialogue of Aotearoa/New Zealand on October 25 at the Methodist Church in Takapuna, Auckland.
Some 80 people attended the liturgy, including host minister of the Methodist parish Rev. Peter Norman, Methodist Church of New Zealand vice-president Te Rito Peyroux-Semu, and Catholic co-convenor of the dialogue Pat Lythe.
“When I was a young priest, the ecumenical movement was really strong. We’ve lost steam. We need to recommit to it. It’s so important. Patience doesn’t give up when the going gets tough. We should not see this night as a tick in the box, and we’ve done our bit for ecumenism,” Bishop Lowe said.
Mrs Lythe told NZ Catholic that ecumenism seems to be falling by the wayside as inter-faith relations become “the flavour of the month”.
“The ecumenical body is actually in a poor state. But some of the dialogues are doing OK. This one is doing ok,” she said, referring to the Catholic dialogue with the Methodists. The international dialogue between the two churches has been going on for 55 years.
She said that some dialogues have stopped altogether. “We (representatives of all the churches]) used to come together 20 years ago, but we don’t anymore,” Mrs Lythe said.
She expressed hope that this was just a “plateau”, and that young people would eventually show interest in ecumenism and carry on with the task of promoting unity.
In his preaching, Bishop Lowe confessed that, when he was a young child, he “betrayed the unity in Christ” by taunting the students from the state primary school that they will “go to hell”.
“It wasn’t taught to me in my home, [but] there was always that sense of suspicion of the other churches that I grew up with as a child,” he said, thanking God that our ecumenical relationships have come a long way since then.
“This evening, we’re invited to let go of our past and to reconcile. But more than that, we are called to commit ourselves to this work of communion and unity,” he said.
The bishop said that we cannot let the pain of our separation “be the thing that drives us”.
“We shouldn’t go back to our own churches on Sunday feeling happy. We should be going back feeling sad that we are not going to the same church together. And that should impel us forward,” he said.
Bishop Lowe said that Christians often forget “that it is one God that we worship and serve”.
“We look at the things that divided us, not the things that united us. And that enabled us to divide ourselves in our relationships,” he said.
Echoing English cleric John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, Bishop Lowe said, “though, we might not agree with everything, we are still going to love each other, and not let that get in the way of our journey to unity in Christ, so that we may truly be so completely one. The world will know that the Father has sent us Christ”.
Mrs Lythe said that she had come from that generation to which Bishop Lowe referred, the one that didn’t talk to each other because they were from different churches.
“My mother was a Methodist. But she was never accepted by the Catholic side,” she said, adding that it wasn’t until she [Pat Lythe] reached secondary school that relations between her Catholic and Methodist families began to “thaw”.
“ So, we’ve come a long way, but we haven’t gotten there yet,” she said.
“We recognise each other’s baptisms and confirmations. We don’t recognise each other’s communion yet. But we’re getting there slowly. I think if Pope Francis keeps going, we might get there.”