I have just arrived in Salisbury for the Meissen Theological Conference. I attend as Anglican Co-chair of the Meissen Commission, but have no responsibility in this conference other than to participate and enjoy it. How nice is that?
The theme this time is ‘Ecclesiology in Mission Perspective’ – which basically means that we want to tease out our understandings of what the Church is (and what it is for). If that is still too vague, then we will be looking at culture, Scripture, unity, implications of Fresh Expressions, academic thinking in Germany and the UK, systematic and practical theological perspectives, ecumenism… and taking a peek at dead influential theologians (who happen to be both dead and influential) such as Karl Barth and Lesslie Newbigin.
Now, for those outside of church circles who might think this is a weird way to spend the inside of a week, I’ll explain where the interest lies.
Churches – like any institutions or any groups of human beings with a common interest or task – easily fail to address the demands of a rapidly changing world. Their default setting is to consolidate the gains or settled patterns of the past – especially where such gains were hard won or costly in some way. So, it is vital that serious consideration is given at regular intervals to re-examining why we think we are who we think we are and why we do what we do in the way that we do it.
The advantage of doing this here is that bringing two cultures and two histories together provides a perspective that sets the experience and priorities of a church in one culture in the context of the critical light of another. So, what might appear to be (or assumed to be) fixed and ‘given’ in England might look a little more relative when seen through the lens of another church’s theological or historical experience and thinking.
Given that – for both the Church of England and the EKD – our churches are not there merely to maintain themselves as ‘societies’ or institutions with a common identity, these themes become important. The Church exists for the sake of the world and not vice versa. It needs to be built up, grown and supported in order that it can fulfil its primary mission of ‘creating the space in which people can find that they have been found by God’ (in whatever circumstances of life). And we can learn better how to do that by subjecting our own preoccupations and assumptions to the scrutiny and questioning of those who come from somewhere else.
I’ll keep you posted.