“That would be an Ecumenical Matter”

By Father Bob Bates [email protected]

Fr Bob Bates joined St Vincent’s Chaplaincy in the Algarve in May 2009, having previously served in the Peterborough Diocese in the UK. Fr Bob and his wife Diane live in the Chaplaincy House in Boliqueime with their dogs. Their son Tom has recently completed a post graduate music degree and lives and works in Cardiff.

Fans of TV’s Father Ted will need no explanation of the first part of the heading to this piece and will be aware that when visiting bishops were expected on Craggy Island, the usually drink-sozzled Fr Jack was trained to say these words as an alternative to his usual monosyllabic and foul mouthed utterances!

Ecumenical matters are those which transcend boundaries and are of interest to all Christians, be they Anglican, Roman Catholic or of another denomination, and it was hoped that this would be an accepted answer to any probing question to Jack that the bishops might ask – and so it thankfully proved to be.

Ecumenism comes very much to the fore in the next week or so as we enter into the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity”.

This comes around each January, almost as soon as Christmas is over – and while there is some logic in locating it here in the calendar (after all Christ came to earth for everyone), it is almost too close to the festive season to be treated as thoroughly as it should be. It can catch us unawares and unprepared.

At the Last Supper, in St John’s gospel, Jesus prays that all his followers be “as one” and yet the church that was founded with him as its cornerstone has over the centuries since split and divided into various divisions, which have settled into their own ways and styles of administration, liturgy and worship, with varying political and managerial aspects that are unique to each.

Yes, we all believe in the same God, and yes, we all seek to worship him, but we do so in our way and will not give or relinquish our ways – much to the bewilderment of those who look on.

Throughout the year, there are discussions, joint papers are issued, subjects that are of common interest are deliberated “ecumenically” and decisions are taken – but each year, for a week in January, we try to come together in prayer to see just what can be done to break down the man-made barriers which prevent unity. It could be argued that not much is achieved, but to stop so praying would be a great mistake; and if nothing else is achieved, at least friendships are cemented and the differences are acknowledged in what might be called “Unity in Diversity”.

This year, we here at St Vincent’s are delighted to be involved in a joint service at Faro Cathedral, where Bp Manuel, with some help from myself and other folk from our Chaplaincy, will be leading us in prayer and worship on January 21 at 11pm.

This is especially significant for us as January 22 is the special day when we honour our patron St Vincent. The service will be in Portuguese and English, and should be a cheerful opportunity to worship in harmony with our Roman Catholic friends who have made us so welcome here in the Algarve.

It would be wonderful if we had a goodly number of English speaking people with us to join in the fellowship (and the hymns), and to accept the generous hospitality that has been offered – please come if you can.

Ecumenical Blessings to all.