It has long been a notion amongst Ecumenicals that it is a good idea to mix with people from other denominations, to learn from them, exchange views and create friendships hopefully leading to unity.
Well in my experience mixing with Ecumenicals can lead one astray in a direction you never intended to go to in the first place.
As I shall demonstrate.
Some Ecumenical Leaders in our church decided it would be a great idea if they arranged a joint visit to a famous shrine and invite members of a number of other denominations who are part of our Parish Ecumenical Movement. They organized the trip and publicized it widely in all the member churches as well as encouraged our congregation … coercing me more than once … to come along on the pilgrimage and show willingness and unity.
On the day in question about sixty or so people from the five different churches gathered in our church car park ready to set off in two buses waiting for us.
One of the leaders stood on a box so that he could be seen by everyone and addressed us on a portable loudspeaker.
“It is so nice to see so many of you here from our Ecumenical Family. Today we have a great opportunity to make new friends and meet new people. To this end, when you’re on the bus, and during our visit to the shrine, do not sit with people you already know from your own church. Seek out new faces. There’ll be many people you’ve never met or seen before, sit with them, smile, have a chat and welcome a new friend in your life. Mingle … mingle … and mingle some more! A stranger is a friend you’ve yet to meet. Have fun!”
“Great …” I thought, “organized fun. Just what I’ve always wanted. Because I do not have the imagination and initiative to make up my own enjoyment and have my own friends!”
I sat at the back of the bus in the hope that no one would sit next to me and I’d have a peaceful journey. No such luck.
I don’t know why, but complete strangers often stop and chat with me and tell me their life stories … in the shops, on the bus or train, in the streets, anywhere. What is it about me that attracts people to me?
Soon enough an elderly lady came and sat next to me and as the coach left the church car park she started talking.
First she said hello and introduced herself. Then she said something inane about the weather, which we often do in the UK when we have nothing better to say. After that she said how she looked forward to the shrine visit. And before you know it she was telling me her life story.
She talked about the voluntary work she did during the Second World War, about her husband dying, how she grows prize-winning azaleas, whatever they are, about her grandson Quentin and how she bakes the best steak and kidney pies. I mean … who these days calls a boy Quentin???
It was obvious the old lady wanted to talk so I nodded and smiled politely at this continuous monologue pretending to be a dialogue.
I wished I’d never agreed to go on this pilgrimage in the name of Ecumenism.
Is this how Chaucer felt on his way to Canterbury? Having to listen to tales about Quentin, azaleas and steak and kidney pies?
After about two hours of this non-stop listening to this nice but verbally diarrheic old lady the coach drew up at a pub on the way to the shrine to allow us to stretch our legs and use the amenities.
I went to the pub’s beer garden and sat at a lonely table away from everyone else to enjoy a lovely pint of Guinness.
I thought about the shrine we were visiting and about God in His infinite wisdom looking down upon us from Heaven.
What does He make of all this Ecumenical Movement? Does He approve and like the diversity of all the different Christian denominations mingling and making friends? Or would He prefer us all to be of one Church, one trade brand, with one trademark? And which one does He prefer I wander?
What does He think of us Catholics who can be a little bit fishy, especially on Fridays? Arguing amongst ourselves about different types of Masses and other such matters!
Which kind of Mass does He like? Does He enjoy Latin Gregorian chants or does He prefer guitars and waving of hands in the air? And does all that incense going up to Heaven make Him open all the windows to clear the smoke out before the smoke alarms go off?
Having had my personal discussion with God on how He could improve things down here I got up and headed towards the car park.
There was only one coach waiting there. Obviously the other one had already left and would await our arrival at the shrine.
I got in and sat somewhere totally different to avoid the non-stop-talking old lady.
Moments later the coach started filling up and a man in his forties sat next to me.
“You all right mate?” he said and I smiled back. “Did you get to the last game with Granchester?”
“No …” I mumbled, and before I could say anything else he turned round and started talking to a friend sitting behind us.
I leant my head towards the window, closed my eyes and pretended to go to sleep to avoid another unending conversation.
I must have dozed off because after about an hour of driving a few of the people at the back of the bus started singing. Strangely … these were not the familiar “Praise Songs” I’d heard so often at our prayer meetings with the Charismatic wing of our congregation.
No … these were totally new songs I’d never heard before and … wait … the lyrics are quite risqué and at times quite rude. What kind of Ecumenical types are these?
What’s going on here?
I asked the man sitting next to me which church those people at the back belong to.
"Church?” he replied, “I doubt any of them have ever seen the inside of a church … not unless they give free beer there now!”
“But … why are they going to the shrine then?” I enquired being somewhat slow on the uptake.
“We’re going to no shrine pal,” he said, “we’re off to Granchester for the football match. Where you off to?”
As I said … I don’t like Ecumenicals or anything to do with mingling with people you do not know.
I prefer a Catholic bus with a Catholic driver who knows where he’s going and people from my church whom I know well and who have nothing to do with azaleas and steak and kidney pies or Quentins!