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Friday, 9 October 2009

Ecumenical Conversations in Coutances, France

North side of Coutances and its cathedralImage via Wikipedia

On Friday 2 October, Monseigneur Stanislas Lalanne, the Bishop of Coutances, hosted a dinner at his residence for myself, my chaplain Deacon Frances Hiller, and the diocesan Registrar, Mr Aidan Hargreaves-Smith. Mgr Lalanne’s ecumenical officer, Père Louis Deschamps and his legal counsellor, Père Harel, were also guests at the dinner. The evening was both an occasion to build ecumenical friendships, and to explore together some areas of common interest of our Churches and some of the present challenges we face, both in the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.

I was in Countances for the ordination of the Revd Peter Hales to the priesthood and co-incidentally Mgr Lalanne was due to ordain a deacon on the same day in Cherbourg, so our conversation naturally turned to matters of theological formation. Mgr Lalanne was particularly interested in our Post Ordination Training programme, part of the Church of England's requirements, and run in this diocese by the Director of Training, the Revd Ulla Monberg. Bishop Lalanne seemed to be quite taken with the principle of continuing formal ministerial formation on some practical and pastoral matters in the early years after ordination, something that is not common in the training of Roman Catholic clergy in France.

We also looked at how we might encourage deeper contacts for the purpose of study and joint reflection at the local congregational level, perhaps on some biblical or theological matters. The main difficulty here, we recognised, would be linguistic. To help build mutual understanding at the level of our faithful we mentioned the idea of joint pilgrimages. Mont St Michel is in the diocese of Coutances and could be an obvious possibility.

Monseigneur Lalanne (picture left) and I had a wide ranging discussion on some of the issues which the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church are facing: matters of authority in the Church; the ecclesiological questions of local autonomy and global unity; the place of women in the Church; the relationship of the Gospel to modern cultures; and the challenge of evangelisation in an increasingly secularised world. Mgr Lalanne mentioned the difficulty that can arise in ecumenical relations when clergy of our Churches sit lightly to our own ecclesial discipline. Previously in the afternoon, Mr Aiden Hargreaves-Smith and his Roman Catholic counterpart Père Harel, explored many themes of ecclesiastical and canon law together.

Our conversations were a good example of the sort of honest and respectful ecumenical dialogue which Bishop Geoffrey and I have in so many places in the diocese, as well as typical of the warm hospitality we Anglicans receive from our Roman Catholic hosts.

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