In the ordinary way I’d have blogged this last week when I first heard about it, but I haven’t exactly been on top form recently…
Ordination services in British Methodism are held annually at venues in the vicinity of the Conference. They are often held in non-Methodist Churches because we don’t have enough buildings around that are large enough. This year the Conference is meeting in Southport and one of the Ordination services was to have taken place at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool. Sadly, almost at the last moment, the invitation for the service to be held there has been withdrawn “on the advice of the Vatican”. It seems that some Catholics were upset at the use of their building by our lot. (On the positive side, the service has been moved to Chester Cathedral. But I digress)
My experience for a long time has been that the Methodist and Catholic communities get along very well togethr ‘on the ground’. We’ve come a long way from the “catholics are the anti-Christ” attitude that was very present during my upbringing. As a student at Sussex, I remember very close co-operation between the Catholic and Methodist groups, though this greatly displeased the hierarchy in the catholic diocese. During my time as a chaplain at Swansea I often attended the student mass and was sometimes asked to preach by the priest, often at the very last moment. I can think of many local situations where the relationship between Catholics and Methodists are cordial and fruitful.
Sadly, the powers that be in the Catholic Church just don’t seem to get it. They seem content to turn a blind eye to local co-operation as long as no one makes too much fuss about it, but they remain committed to a worldview which sees their church as the repository of truth with the rest of us being second class Christians at best. It doesn’t seem to matter whether or not the Spirit blesses this local co-operation: the doctrinal purity of the church comes first. (I have to stress that in my experience it is the hierarchy that clings to and promotes this kind of thinking. “Ordinary” church members and local clergy are very often inclined more hospitably)
The cancellation of this year’s ordination service, while inconvenient, is just a symptom of a more general block to ecumenical progress. I wish I could say I thought change is in the offing, but as far as I can tell this is just another sign that the ecumenical movement is well and truly stuck.