The poetic image of the English Midlands as “sodden and unkind” was badly damaged last month when the first British Faith and Order Conference convened at Nottingham University. The country’s most spacious campus was bathed in sunshine as 550 representatives of twenty denominations met to discuss questions that divide and unite them. The British Council of Churches had earlier pointed out that the ecumenical harvest of fifty years has been no more than the union of three different kinds of Methodists in 1932, and of two different kinds of Scottish Presbyterians in 1929. (The official statement overlooked another Scottish union in 1956.) Non-Roman Catholic bodies outside the BCC include the Brethren and other evangelical bodies and several small Scottish and Irish Presbyterian churches.

For the first few days the timetable ticked along comfortably and predictably. Then something happened to ensure for “Nottingham 1964” a permanent niche in British ecclesiastical history. There came before the whole conference from one of the sections some radical and imaginative resolutions. The first of these (as later slightly amended) read: “United in our urgent desire for One Church Renewed for Mission, this Conference invites the member Churches of the British Council of Churches, in appropriate groupings, such as nations, to covenant together to work and pray for the inauguration of union by a date agreed amongst them.” But the real audacity came with the second resolution. “We dare to hope,” it said, “that this date should not be later than Easter Day 1980.Easter Sunday in 1980 Will fall on April 6. We believe that we should offer obedience to God in a commitment as decisive ...

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