The Church of England does many things well, there are also lots and lots of wonderful people doing great stuff in the Church of England. But there is a but.
Take the Faith in Conflict Conference that I am at this week. So much of this is absolutely brilliant:
- The actual plenary content (just the first afternoon and evening have been enough to have made the time and cost worthwhile).
- The people who are speaking and leading the smaller workgroups are highly qualified in the field and good facilitators.
- The preparation and organisation are great. Clear arrangements, good facilities, very welcoming,helpful and knowledgeable staff team, quality printed materials. All top notch.
- The food has also been good (how many people get to have meals served in the Nave of a Cathedral), with good quality, quantity, service and timing.
- Coventry Cathedral is a wonderful setting for a conference on conflict and has a fantastic ongoing work in the field of reconciliation.
So a great conference.
However, there is a weakness and it reminds me of my training on a CofE dominated course. It is in the area of ecumenical appearance.
First, we had warm and friendly welcomes from the Chair of the organising committee, from the Bishop and from the Cathedral Dean. But there was no ecumenical involvement. Why was there nobody from another denomination to also welcome us? There are people at this conferenence from the Baptists, Catholics, Society of Friends, Mennonites, Methodists and more (including from other Countries). Couldn't someone from a local Church or Synod/District/Area from another denomination have provided an ecumenical dimension to the welcome?
Secondly, it would have been nice to see in the programme some contributions to the worship from other traditions than just the CofE. The worship may be great (although Choral Evensong sadly does very little to help me worship) but there appears from what I can see so far no attempt to involve other Churches, no ecumenical welcome. At a conference on Faith in Conflict to not celebrate different traditions of worship (about which there has been plenty conflict in the past and plenty of reconciliation still needed) seems a missed opportunity.
My perception is that these come from two beliefs the Church of England has of itself. First that it sees itself as the National Church and therefore able to represent all Christians. Second it believes that because the breadth of the Church of England is so wide it encompasses all traditions. For me neither of these are true and it disappoints me when I experience what can appear as arrogance or a sense of superiority. I know that when I explore these issues with people in the Church of England this is not what they intend. I hope that over time we will see more progress made.