Churches work together across England in a range of different "unity groups". These range from formal charities to social media pages.
It is useful for churches and congregations to come together for a number of reasons:
- Building Relationships: Good relationships are foundational for joint work at every level. Unity groups often create opportunities for local Christians to spend time together, listen and learn from each other.
- Communication: Effective communication is also important if churches and congregations are to work together. Unity groups often create networks and processes for sharing news and information.
- Mutual Support: Our churches and congregations are all part of the one Body of Christ. Unity groups can help leaders and church members to care for each other as fellow disciples.
- Prayer: It is important to pray for each other and for our local communities. Many unity groups coordinate prayer networks or organise prayer events. These events can be a springboard for joint action.
- Shared Vision: There are many different Christian churches and denominations in the UK. Our churches have a broad range of beliefs and practices and don't agree about everything, but unity groups help us to find common ground so that we can take action together.
- Mission: There is a very close relationship between Christian unity and mission. Mission is more effective when it is done in parternship. We also grow closer when we work together on shared projects.
- Engagement: Churches that work together in unity groups are able to relate better to their local communities - particulalry local government and statutory services. Churches have more impact when they work together.
Christians across the UK have found many different ways of building unity at local level:
A unique feature of church life in England, paralleled nowhere else in the world, has been the development of a network of Intermediate Bodies – mostly corresponding to counties or large cities. These umbrella ecumenical bodies encourage and support local churches of different traditions as they seek to work, worship and witness together.
Churches Together in England has a "County" directory.
Intermediate Bodies provide support to all local groupings of churches – whether formal or informal groups, whatever they choose to call themselves.
Each County or Intermediate Body is resourced very differently. While a few only have a contact person, many have someone who is ecumenically appointed and paid, even if for few hours, to work with senior Church Leaders and Denominational Ecumenical Officers across the county. While their actual job titles differ, they are referred to as the County Ecumenical Officer, or CEO for short.
County Ecumenical Officers (CEOs) exist to support and encourage local ecumenism (churches working together). They work alongside the Denominational Ecumenical Officers and the Church Leaders in their area (ie Bishop, Chair of District, Synod Moderator, Regional Minister etc). They also often connect with local Churches Together groups.
There are also Churches Together groups which may relate to much more local communities - which can range from entire towns to just two churches.
The Gather Movement is a group of people who are passionate about working together to see their places improved socially, culturally, environmentally and spiritually. They are involved in bringing the Christian community together in over 150 cities and towns as a network of networks to work alongside the wider community.
This movement aims to encourage a paradigm shift from independent, silo-based thinking towards a more expansive, interdependent, strategic and orchestrated approach to city transformation.
The aim of the movement is to seed the vision for unity-based city transformation, in places where unity needs to grow. They actively connect with city leaders, inspire them to begin a city unity movement and support them in getting started.
They help unity groups to build on their existing work though training, resources and connections with the wider network. They share best practice, support leaders pastorally, teach, train, inspire and pray with them.
Examples of this include unity group audits, learning communities, annual Summits and
resources such as the 5Ds of Community Transformation and Connecting Social Action and Faith Sharing.
The Gather Movement central team acts as a conduit connecting national and regional opportunities with towns and cities to further town and city transformation. Examples of this include connecting unity groups with Metro Mayors, civic leaders, opportunities with national Government and with national partners to tackle specific challenges.
Citizens UK brings together everyday people and local organisations to build a better, fairer society. It seeks change through the method of community organising. This means that they work with people who are part of civil society organisations (such as schools, universities, faith institutions, charities and unions) to connect them to other organisations in their local area, who work together to make change.
There are now 18 chapters of Citizens UK across the county. Many of them have strategic partnerships with their local Church of England Diocese.
Citizens alliances have a broader membership than Christian unity groups, since they involve other faith communities and non-faith institutions. They can, however, provide a valuable way for churches to work together and engage with their community. Many ecumenical organisations and leaders use the methodology of community organisation in their work.
Community organising was inspired by Catholic Social Teaching and has a number of features that are attractive to contemporary ecumenists. It is fundamentally relational, receptive and missional – providing a methodology for “doing ecumenism” which can feel authentic and exciting.
The British and Irish churches set up Christian Aid so that they, and others, could help refugees in the aftermath of the Second World War and ‘respond to Christ’s command to care for all in need’.
Christian Aid is accountable and answerable to these churches. The churches work with Christian Aid locally, regionally and nationally.
The Sponsoring Churches appoint board members, who are trustees of the vision, values and purpose of Christian Aid – to end poverty and ‘relieve or combat malnutrition, hunger, disease, sickness or distress throughout the world’.
Christian Aid has always been an important part of local ecumenism in the UK. Churches have come together to support the work of Christian Aid - and have grown closer as a result. This began with the now famous street collections, but has also included important campaigning work.
Christian Aid is not a local unity group as such but groups have formed with a focus on its work.