These reflections began with a group of people who spent some time wondering together about big questions. This project emerged from the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue of Canada. It arose out of growing awareness of the changing tenor of questions in our culture surrounding religion. Ordinary Canadians seemed less concerned about the question of how to foster unity between divided Christian churches and more inclined to ask a few basic questions: Why Christianity? Why the church? Why organized religion at all?
Any dialogue begins with a perception of difference. We became increasingly focused, however, on ways in which Anglicans and Roman Catholics could address people in our culture with a common voice. This reorientation echoes wider developments in both our communions.
In the Roman Catholic Church a Synod on Evangelization took place that sought to understand better how the church might reach out the people who are asking questions about life and faith—questions that perhaps had been inadequately answered in their youth.
In the Anglican Communion a comparable energy informs conversations around gospel and culture, as seen in the Five Marks of Mission, especially their call to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
Both churches wonder if and how it might be possible to speak anew to these people about faith in Jesus Christ.
The Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue considered how it might support the wider church in its desire to meet people where they are in their questions of faith. The dialogue also considered that this particular moment in our culture might be calling the churches to begin a new way of being ecumenical.
Internationally, Anglicans and Roman Catholics have been involved in dialogue since the late 1960s. Here in Canada the theological dialogue between our churches began in 1971 and a separate dialogue between our bishops began in 1975. These dialogues have all produced excellent results. They have assisted us in identifying the many and significant elements of faith that we share. They have also identified remaining differences, which are the subject to our continuing dialogue.
With this project, our national Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue is attempting something new: how can we witness to our commonly held faith together? We will continue to address our differences in due course, but given how close we have grown over the past decades, how can we speak our hope and our joy together—already now—in a way that will capture the minds and hearts of searching people of our day?
Together we brainstormed about the basic existential questions that are preoccupying many of our contemporaries. These became the topics of the essays that follow: Why is the world the way it is? Will it be okay? What is courage? What is my purpose in life? Religion and science—how do they hold together? Why so many religions? Why believe? Why belong? Why pray? Why the church? Why belong to this church?
Over the course of several meetings, individual theologians and bishops on the dialogue drafted their responses to these questions, which the group then discussed. We mulled over the meanings of words, and the crafting of sentences. We worked to make our words accessible rather than esoteric and mystifying, while at the same time reflective of the theological truths that our communions hold in common.
As we proceeded in this work together, some key realizations emerged as themes. It was important to convey clearly in our manner of writing that our meditations are not providing “the answers” to these deep existential questions that are being asked. Rather we have sought to ponder the questions deeply, and to share some of the rich insights that the Christian tradition offers in light of them. We would underscore that these texts, arising from our dialogue, are the responsibility of the individual authors. Moreover, we acknowledge that these responses do not always come easily, nor are they intended to close the conversation concerning what is true, good, beautiful, and worth striving for in this life.
Finally, we share with you a grace that has emerged for the dialogue: the lived experience of realizing how much indeed we hold in common as Roman Catholics and Anglicans. It is perhaps only once or twice in the whole process that it was even raised: “Does your church hold this as well?”
We hope that something in these pages provides a clearer understanding of what it means to believe in the God of Jesus Christ, to belong to a church, to pray, and to discern the shape of courage and one’s mission. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share something of our journey with you.
Peace and joy from the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Canada!