We’ve recently come back from Romania, where we had been invited to a conference that included a jubilee to celebrate ten years of the Cross of Nails centre for reconciliation (between church denominations) that we developed there in the beautiful city of Sibiu.
The conference was fascinating, with delegates from Cross of Nails centres in Eastern and Central Europe. It was attended by Canon Sarah Hills, the Canon for Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral where the Cross of Nails reconciliation work began after WW2.
Sarah gave some excellent teaching on the nature of reconciliation, which included some interactive group work on the four ‘cornerstones’ of reconciliation, namely, Truth, Humility, Friendship and Spirituality.
However, it was Stefan’s contribution that intrigued and challenged me. Stefan, aka Dr Stefan Tobler, is director of the Centre for Ecumenical Research, a place for post-doctoral students and others to learn about each other’s church denomination: the differences between them, the reasons for those differences, and greater understanding as a result. There are all too few centres doing this kind of work in Eastern Europe and Stefan’s deliberately reconciling approach led to his being presented with the Sibiu Cross of Nails 10 years ago.
During the 10-year Jubilee service, it came to his turn to present his work. Instead of the usual description and update, he had decided to do something different. He wanted to look at reconciliation in theology, using the four cornerstones that Sarah had introduced to the conference. He would give theology marks out of 10 for each one.
I sat up. Now this was interesting! Stefan is always worth listening to but I have never come across this approach before.
First, take truth, he said. That means honesty when we are studying our theology with other people: honesty with them about ourselves, and honesty with the material we’re studying. Truth and honesty are crucial to good theology; but most important is to accept that none of us ‘owns’ the truth. It’s bigger than all of us.
He thought that his Centre was OK with being honest and truthful – he gave it 8/10.
Second, he took humility. This means facing up to the past, to the wrongs that have been committed in the name of religion. It means each person must get past their superiority complexes, and be more open about their difficulties. He awarded the centre 6/10. Could do better.
Third, friendship. Incredibly important, it overcomes prejudice and builds relationships on a personal as well as an academic level. The centre was pretty good at this. 10/10!
Finally, spirituality. The situation on the ground in Romania is not good at present. The different denominations don’t or won’t pray together – the Orthodox Church prohibits its people from praying with non-Orthodox. In this situation, he said, they have to rely on the hidden presence of the Holy Spirit who gives hope and strength. 4/10.
But. God is much greater than our theology, our spirituality and our hearts. When all the denominations learn to pray together, we will be halfway to full communion with each other.
I loved his mixture of honesty, plain speaking, warm spirituality and continuing enthusiasm for the work that he’s been called to.