Ecumenism for Lent: Giving Out, not Giving Up

The Fermanagh Churches Forum started its series of Lenten lunches yesterday. Over four weeks, participants in the forum will meet in the Presbyterian, Catholic, Methodist and Church of Ireland churches for a lunch and reflection. It’s the quiet sort of ecumenism that happens in different parts of this island.

One of the members of the Presbyterian congregation, Sheila Phillips, read from Isaiah 58. This passage talks about the kind of ‘fasting’ that God desires. In a nutshell, it says that God doesn’t want people to ‘give up’ things in a way that is merely formal or ritualistic.

Phillips said that what God is after is a ‘fasting’ that ‘gives out’, to the poor, to the needy, to the enemy. In this giving out, he expects his people to give up quarrelling amongst each other, to look out for each other, to serve each other with the common good in mind.

This stimulated some conversation among people from the forum, which is composed of laypeople from the four main denominations.

I’ve been visiting Enniskillen and talking with members of the forum as part of my School’s Visioning 21st Century Ecumenism research project. Over the next two years, we will be conducting case studies of eight different expressions of faith on this island. The Fermanagh Churches Forum is one of these.

In our surveys of faith leaders and laypeople on the island of Ireland, we asked if people were involved in regular local ecumenical activities. Most laypeople were not, although they were more likely than clergy to say there should be more ecumenical interaction.

That said, people involved with the Fermanagh Churches Forum say that their ecumenical pursuits are certainly a minority sport. There were about 20 people at the event yesterday, a good size for meaningful conversation, but certainly not an indication that there are Christians out there thirsting for more ecumenism.

People I have talked with so far say that the Fermanagh Churches has been crucial for opening their minds to new ideas and broadening their faith journey. To me, that sounds like a good reason to try some ecumenism for Lent.

(The next lunch in the Fermanagh Churches Forum series is on Wed. 3 March at 1 p.m. in St Michael’s Catholic Church).

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