Story: Interdenominational Christianity

Page 4. Ecumenism

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National Council of Churches

Ecumenism is the movement to bring churches closer together. This movement was strongly supported by leading Christians throughout the 20th century. In 1941 the National Council of Churches (NCC) was founded by seven Protestant denominations, including Anglicans, Baptists and the Salvation Army, to discuss their differences and to cooperate with each other. The NCC was a foundation member of the World Council of Churches in 1948. A separate Inter-church Committee on Public Affairs included Catholic representation.

Chaplaincies

Among the benefits from this movement was the establishment of interdenominational chaplains in prisons, hospitals and universities. The British Army had long had chaplains – all of them Anglican. During the First World War chaplains represented three types of churches: Anglican, Catholic and 'other Protestant'. However, after competition between them for priority the army insisted on a single structure, which largely survives today. Prison chaplains were voluntary until the creation of the Prison Chaplaincy Service in 1951. Hospital chaplaincies began as denominational but this changed from the 1940s as state funding was introduced on the basis that chaplains were interdenominational in character. Today they are supervised by the Interchurch Council for Hospital Chaplaincy. A key issue for all chaplaincies is how to accommodate representatives of non-Christian religions.

Council of Churches in Aotearoa New Zealand

The Catholic Church's Second Vatican Council of 1962-65 authorised much closer links between Catholics and Protestants, and in 1989 the NCC was replaced by a new ecumenical body with Catholic participation – the Council of Churches in Aotearoa New Zealand. However, the Baptists would not join, the Catholics later withdrew and the organisation closed in 2005. Although various bodies have sought to fill the gap, including the biannual Church Leaders Forum, the New Zealand Christian Network, and the National Dialogue for Christian Unity founded in 2016, the days of organisational ecumenism seem to be over.

A broad church

In 1943 the Congregational Union, Methodist and Presbyterian churches at Raglan combined to form New Zealand’s first Union Parish Church. In 1947 the same three denominations decided to form a Union Parish in Taita, Lower Hutt, which became the first officially recognised Union Parish. From 1967 the Uniting Congregations of Aotearoa New Zealand (UCANZ) also included the Anglicans and Associated Churches of Christ. In 2018 UCANZ administered 124 cooperative parishes in New Zealand.

Cooperating parishes

Negotiations to create a single Protestant church revived after the Second World War, involving the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches and the Associated Churches of Christ. In 1964 the Anglican Church joined these discussions and in 1969 a plan for union was issued. Church members loyal to their own denomination, especially Anglicans, defeated these plans. However many cooperating parishes had been created by combining small parishes of several denominations. These parishes continue in the 21st century and have an overarching body, the Uniting Congregations of Aotearoa New Zealand. Training of ministers became more collaborative. In the early 21st century the University of Otago and the evangelical Laidlaw College were the largest providers of theological training.

How to cite this page:

Peter J. Lineham, 'Interdenominational Christianity - Ecumenism', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/interdenominational-christianity/page-4 (accessed 15 November 2019)

Story by Peter J. Lineham, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 9 Aug 2018