Monday, March 14, was my last day with two of the members of our team in Rome. We met at 9:30 a.m. for a two-hour dialog with Dr. Mary Tanner. The place was the Anglican Center where we had met the previous week. John Green and Nate Bacon made this last meeting of our group. After we spoke to Mary Tanner we had a little time to “debrief” about our journey before we said our good-byes.
Mary Tanner is the European President of the World Council of Churches. She lives in Stamford (England) and travels widely in Europe (and beyond) on behalf of ecumenism. She has been a member of the WCC Faith and Order Commission since 1974, serving as its moderator from 1991 to 1998. Mary Tanner has also been involved in various ecumenical conversations on behalf of her church, including the Anglican-Roman conversation. From 1982 to 1998 she was active within the Church of England body which ultimately became the Council for Christian Unity. She became a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2008 for services to the world-wide Anglican Church. She is one very impressive person who has a humble and gentle spirit and a deep love for Christ and his church. I was profoundly inspired by meeting her.
Perhaps one of my most encouraging moments for me came early in this conversation. We were each telling our own story to Mary and then getting her response and in turn listening to her story. As I spoke last for our now three-person team I showed her my book and spoke about missional-ecumenism. She said to me, “This is what all ecumenism should be!” She later said, “You have to keep saying what you are saying and try to find a bigger platform upon which to say it!” Amazing, maybe I came to Rome to hear this prophetic encouragement to press on. I know I needed it.
When I asked her questions about John Stott, Jim Packer and Lesslie Newbigin I soon discovered that these men, who had shaped my views so directly over many years, had also been significant in Mary’s life, especially the contribution of the late Lesslie Newbigin. She said that one of the key elements of true ecumenism is “listening and standing with others.” She also spoke about Acts 15 and of our profound need to “listen.” We see this going on in this account of the early church when the leaders faced a time of potential division with such great care and love.
Mary also told us that there “were a lot of signs of hope if we were ready to see them.” I agree but again I do not hear this from most American evangelicals.
One of the things that came to the surface quickly in this dialog was the role justice, and being immersed in concern for the poor, came into the discussion about missional-ecumenism. John and Nate understand this in ways that I am only beginning to grasp. They spoke about “being immersed among broken people” and being required to learn creative ways to have dialog through learning to listen to the poor. I realize how little of this I understand and once again saw a major reason for being on this team at this time and in this place.
Dr. Tanner suggested to us that the best bilateral dialogs that are going on right now around the world are in places outside of Europe and North America where the dialog is generally centered on “kingdom—world—church.” My own theology and journey deeply resonates with this emphasis and understanding. No one spoke to my heart more profoundly, and to my intellectual concerns in a more encouraging way, than Mary Tanner. She is a seasoned ecumenist who has been at this calling for most of her adult life. I wish I had opportunity to speak with her regularly but this one visit was a great blessing I shall never forget.
After this meeting I went to a lunch with a number of local ministers and church leaders. This was a monthly gathering of Protestant and Catholic ministers who very simply share ordinary times of life and food together. We met in the home of the Methodist minister in Rome. The most enjoyable part of this time was sitting with Canon Mark Langham and enjoying wonderful conversation about Anglican and Catholic dialogs and work.
Anglican Canon Mark Langham was appointed to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 2008. Before this appointment Mark was the Administrator of Westminster Cathedral, a position he held for seven years. Langham serves as secretary to the Anglican and Methodist dialogues. He will be part of the Catholic delegation attending the Lambeth Conference in July, and will formally take up his Rome based post in September. Mark is also a gracious man who has served the cause of ecumenism with much joy and blessing. I really benefitted from spending time with him but that time was much too brief.
In the afternoon I decided to visit two of the most famous paleo-churches in Rome. I will say more about these in tomorrow’s blog.