Over many years, the ECCB has been involved in partnerships between congregations. These have involved partners in the Netherlands (there was once a great number of these), with Switzerland, with Germany, with Scotland, and with the United States of America. (There may be some I have missed!)
Such partnerships have had many facets to them, and each one is different. Some have grown from personal friendships between ministers; some have involved the sharing of musical skills and enthusiasms; some have focussed on help with summer camps of various kinds. Many have involved visits in both directions, a chance to walk more obviously in someone else’s shoes, walk someone else’s ways, learn another set of customs, perhaps a slightly different way of thinking, or different ways of worshipping. Occasionally – especially, perhaps, in the past – partnership has involved the reception of financial help for a particular project.
At one time in Scotland, where I come from, people did not leave their town except when there was a church trip. One congregation where Mary and I were members remembered the days when such an outing involved hiring not a bus but a whole train, so that people who never went anywhere could widen their horizons – even if only by a few miles.
That might have been true once for church partnerships: they provided opportunities for travel that people could not manage any other way; and perhaps today more people travel more often on their own than they ever did in the past. This could then lead us to think that the days of partnerships is over, no longer necessary. Whether or not they are still necessary (and you could argue that either way), they are still an important part of our church life.
The truth is that we still benefit from having our horizons broadened; the church still benefits from encounters that take its members beyond their normal paths. It is still the case that we as individuals, our parishes, and our churches, are enriched by encounter with the members of the body of Christ in other parts of God’s world.
So, while some partnerships come to an end – because partnerships rarely last for ever, others are being created. They are created sometimes because individuals have a vision of meeting and gather others into that vision and onto that road. Some new partnerships are being created at a ‘whole church’ level, so the ECCB now has a partnership with the LaCrosse Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).
Our Synodal Senior, Daniel Ženatý, visited the United States earlier this year with Oliver Engelhardt, Head of the Ecumenical Department, and Štěpán Brodský from Diakonie. There they formally signed a covenant with the LaCrosse Synod. And Daniel Ženaty went on to visit the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) and also went to Texas, where new contacts were made, and new possibilities discovered. Today there are congregations here looking for such possibilities; and there are congregations from elsewhere (Texas, Scotland, Rheinland) looking to make new friends here.
Next April, In Atlanta, there will be held the latest in a series of partnership conferences between the ECCB and the PCUSA. It will be a chance to renew old friendships and explore new roads, an opportunity to confirm and renew, to challenge, and maybe even to change. We expect at least twelve people from the ECCB to attend. This time the two ‘original’ churches will be joined by some others – from the ELCA and possibly also the Church of Scotland.
The tent of the covenant is a large tent, and participation in partnership is a broadening reality. In the words of the American spiritual, ‘there’s room for many a more’.