Enlarging its Ecumenical Tent

Celebrating 50 years of United Ecumenical Theological Training.

The Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education is celebrating 50 years as a united ecumenical theological college. 

The anniversary is being marked by a series of commemorative events throughout the year, which offers a good opportunity to reflect on ecumenism, particularly what it means for Black-majority churches. Ecumenism includes the pursuit of unity among churches, though succeeds only when Christian diversity and unity are affirmed by the inclusion of shared practices and faith. As Queen’s celebrates its 50th Anniversary, and increasingly engages more with leaders and congregants of Black-majority churches, what does Christian unity mean, especially from the viewpoint of Black-majority churches? More broadly, what is God calling all churches to do together?  

As a theological college, Queen’s is increasingly attracting students from Black Pentecostal congregations, who want to enhance their ministries through advanced theological studies and reflective practice. Black students (from Pentecostal and mainstream churches) studying at Queen’s enhance diversity, and their much-needed presence in a White-majority space symbolises a small corrective for the wrong imparted to fore-parents and founding members of Black-majority churches, who were not given a warm welcome by mainstream churches in the post-war years.  

Founding members of Pentecostal congregations had a vision of ‘unity in spirit’ though, fifty years ago, when Queen’s became an ecumenical college, Christian unity between host churches and the newly formed Black-majority churches was not on the agenda. Thus, events of the past are called to attention today, with questions around the progress of Christian unity amongst churches, and – by extension – theological education.  

In 1970, the Anglican Queen’s College and the Methodist Handsworth College, with the parent churches, took the bold decision to unite their training institutions to form a single theological college. They did so, confident in the hope of a new union between the churches, and of the now united Queen’s College being the forerunner of a new institution for learning and formation for a new united Church. Even though the churches have not united in the way that was hoped, Queen’s celebrates 50 years of pioneering ecumenical life, not only looking back with thanks, but looking forward to re-imagine and practice what ecumenism and unity means for the next 50 years. 

“Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.” (Isaiah 54:2)

Queen’s takes inspiration from the prophet Isaiah’s vision of hope for an exiled people, and asks how its hope and vision for unity might be enlarged; how its ecclesial tent – our habitations – can be stretched and lengthened, so that they may hear afresh God’s call and command to unity. Black Pentecostal churches are an essential part of that vision.  

December 2018 saw the inauguration of the new Centre for Black Theology (CBT) that has built on an earlier generation that had pursued Christian unity through theological education. The CBT, led by Dr Dulcie Dixon McKenzie and Professor Robert Beckford, is playing a vital role in bringing together current and future leaders from different churches to learn, think and pray together, and the Centre takes forward the commitment of Queen’s over 50 years to ‘enlarge’ its ecumenical tent and, in the commemorative events planned for the year, this features prominently.

One of the first anniversary events took place at Queen’s on 26th February, when students and staff listened to church leaders from the Church of Pakistan and the churches of Bangladesh and of South and North India share their experience of uniting and being united. They also heard their challenge: “We have united. Why do you not follow our lead?”

Future planned events take place on May 4th, when Dr David Chapman, a Methodist historian, will reflect on 50 years of covenanting talks between the Church of England and the Methodist Church, helping us to ask, What can we learn and what next? In June, Professor David Ford will bring his wisdom and insight to bear on Jesus’ teaching on unity in John 17.  

On Friday 10th and Saturday 11th July, the Centre will host a two-day conference that will bring together for the first time, scholars of Black British gospel music and Black Pentecostalism worldwide. Also, in the autumn, on Monday 12th October, it will host the annual Sam Sharpe Lecture. For more information about Queen’s and its 50th Anniversary, visit www.queens.ac.uk.

Article by The Rev Canon Dr David Hewlett, Principal and Dr Dulcie Dixon McKenzie, Director, Centre for Black Theology.

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