Local ecumenical partnership
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In England and Wales, a local ecumenical partnership (or project) is a partnership between churches of different denominations. First piloted in 1964, over 850 now exist to promote unity between different Christian denominations.
Although broadly accepted today, this increased level of partnership has not always been evident. The missiologist David Bosch in his Transforming Mission (Orbis, 1992) recognised ecumenism as the most recent paradigm of mission emerging from the worldwide Church. The main thrust of ecumenism is that despite the theological and cultural differences evident between denominations, the mission of any local Church is made more effective through a united witness. In some cases this has meant that a Christian presence has been retained in areas where neither denomination would be able to continue on its own. In addition, ecumenism encourages the sharing of different worship styles, the development of mutual understanding and the ability for the Church to speak with a united voice on social justice issues. Materials from organisations with a strong ecumenical emphasis, such as the Iona Community and Taizé, are evidence of this.
As a result of the Anglican Methodist Covenant, Anglicans and Methodists are committed to working in partnership with an end goal of achieving full visible unity. Even so, what has begun as an ecumenical dream could end up an administrative nightmare given the differences in culture, structure and resourcing between the two Churches. Moreover, an important emphasis in Methodism is the sense in which it is a grass roots movement. Consequently, a top-down approach is never likely to achieve immediate results. It will however add momentum to the process. The beauty of LEP's is that they enable local Christians who do wish to work together to do so with the full support of the Church and umbrella organisations such as Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI). One further offshoot of LEP's is the steady development of charities or parachurch organisations formed to enable ecumenical work to take place. Herein, members of different Churches come together and serve as directors on an independent body. This is becoming increasingly evident within chaplaincy and youthwork.
Whilst one might think that ecumenism is based around Churches, recent developments have led missiologists to focus on congregations. This recognises events affiliated to the Church that do not necessarily takeplace in a Church building or on a Sunday. One recent example is the Fresh Expressions movement, an organisation run jointly by the Church of England and the Methodist Church. This seeks to encourage effective patterns of mission by bridging the ever-increasing gap between the culture of inherited Church and that of wider society. Its focus is on encouraging local projects that relate the gospel in a manner that is relevant and welcoming to newcomers.