Tuesday, 20 October 2009

One Bread and One Cup

I went to an interesting meeting of the Ecumenical Oversight Group last week at which we discussed the Anglican Methodist Covenant. The interesting thing is that we didn't feel that there was much point discussing the formal theological differences between our denominations - since terms like Arminianism and Calvinism are not particularly significant to most church members - but we did discuss the symbolic value of various actions.
A group has been set up to "implement" the covenant and they recommend that Anglicans and Methodists should follow their own guidelines and have one piece of bread that they can break and one cup that they can share. This might seem a fairly simple thing but it would make a big symbolic difference and wouldn't be difficult to do.
Some Anglicans might feel that they want to use wafers - and they could still do this - but they would need to use a large wafer that could be broken into smaller pieces. Individual wafers would be discouraged - as would little cubes of precut sliced bread.
Obviously the common cup would be an issue for those afraid of swine flu - but we all expect the present crisis to pass at some point.
The great thing about this discussion was that we had two Baptists in the room who were able to add the diversity of the discussion. They pointed out that Baptists also encourage a common cup and would be happy to give similar advice.
The issue here is that many local congregations in Milton Keynes have a deeply held belief that little cups are what Baptists (and others) do. This belief is based on local tradition, but it is very strong: Anglican Communion = one cup / Baptist Communion = little cups. The interesting thing is that local tradition is creating a division which does not exist in a global sense... intriguing!...
The challenge here is tricky. Do we encourage churches to adopt a common practice that reflects the public statements of their denominations - thereby nurturing unity - or do we allow them to maintain an artificial distinction based on a local understanding of their traditions.
As I say this isn't an easy choice - particularly for those of us who believe in the freedom of the local church. It is the right of local Christians to define who they are - even if their own denominations might think they are wrong? And yet, is it fair to leave people in the dark about their own traditions - allowing them to promote disunity for the sake of ignorance?
Personally I think you can never have too much information. I think it's perfectly fine for those of us who know something about the bigger picture to pass on what we're learnt - always acknowledging that it's up to local people to make up their own minds and do what they think and feel is right.