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Ecumenical church renewal: the example of the United Reformed Church

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posted on 2023-08-30, 14:01 authored by Martin F. Camroux
Background to the Research. In his enthronement sermon as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1942 William Temple famously declared the ecumenical movement to be ‘the great new fact of our era’. For much of the twentieth century it was the major metanarrative of Church renewal. By the end of the century however the enthusiasm had largely dissipated, the organizations which represented it were in decline, and the hoped for organic unity looked further away than ever. Surprisingly little has been written on the attempt to achieve organic unity in England, what it hoped to achieve and why, at least in terms of its expectations, it failed. I propose to come at this major topic by focusing on the creation of the United Reformed Church, which was formed in 1972 by a union of the majority of congregations of the Congregational Church in England and Wales and the Presbyterian Church in England and saw its formation as a catalyst for the ecumenical renewal of the British churches. Methodology. This thesis, which is mainly resourced by documentary evidence and interviews, comes into the category of qualitative research but also uses statistics where they are relevant, for example when dealing with Church decline. Since I am a United Reformed Church minister, and have worked ecumenically, my role here draws upon the perspective of an observing participant. Conclusions. The research revealed that the hopes of the United Reformed Church to be a catalyst for church renewal were illusory and that the effects of its ecumenical priority were partially negative in the Church’s life. With the failure of its ecumenical hope the Church had little idea of its purpose and found great difficulty establishing an identity. It suffered from severe membership loss and the hoped for missionary advantage promised by its ecumenical strategy did not materialize. The thesis will analyse the reasons for failure, while noting that what failed was not ecumenism as such but a particular model of ecumenism.



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