Church Leaders’ gathering at the Focolare Centre, Welwyn Garden City

The Church and the Holy Spirit’ was the theme of this year’s gathering for church leaders at the Focolare Centre in Welwyn Garden City on 31 January.

Bishop Brendan Leahy of the Catholic Diocese of Limerick, delivered the keynote address, preceded by contributions on the theme from members of different denominations: Rev Dr Richard Clutterbuck, speaking from the Methodist tradition, Bishop Francis Alao, from the Pentecostal perspective of the Church of God, Scotland, and Canon Aled Edwards, who drew on his experience of the Church of Wales within the Anglican Communion.

Included in their audience were members of the Lutheran, Baptist, United Reformed and Armenian churches and, for the first time at these meetings, the Society of Friends (Quakers) was represented. There were five Catholic bishops, four Anglican bishops, one Lutheran and one Pentecostal bishop, along with the General Secretaries of ACTS (Action of Churches Together in Scotland), Cytun (Churches Together in Wales) and CTE (Churches Together in England).

Through the hymns of Charles Wesley, the diverse cultural backgrounds of the Pentecostal communities in Scotland and in the Celtic riches of Wales, the height, length and breadth of the Holy Spirit’s action was displayed in all its beauty.

In his address, Bishop Leahy quoted a writing of Chiara Lubich in which she refers to the Spirit as a voice that speaks loudly but which we can only hear if love in us is “distilled all the way to being only Holy Spirit”. Chiara suggested that “love is distilled by passing through Jesus Forsaken in his abandonment: He is the nothingness, Love reduced to the extreme through which only Simplicity passes”. Bishop Leahy went on to say that “if we want to listen to the Holy Spirit, we love Jesus Forsaken, embrace him in all our sorrows, to have the Risen Lord present in us: he brings his Spirit with him.”

Jesus Forsaken, so present in our churches and in society, was the stimulus and root of the dialogue which followed: not as overwhelming pain, but as a sign of the hope and resurrection that only God can bring about.

A few impressions:

  • “Days such as this are an ‘oasis’ for me.”
  • “A very rich day, with lots of new insights from different traditions and also different cultures, and all with a common thread and huge mutual respect.”
  • “Wonderful theology, where our way of doing ecumenism is not transactional.”
  • “I am fascinated by the spirituality of ‘us’ and by ‘Love distilled through Jesus Forsaken’.”
  • “You’ve made a Baptist feel a t home!”