A beautiful ecumenical gesture at Lichfield Cathedral

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On 8 November, a relic of St Chad was transferred from St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham’s Catholic cathedral, to the nearby Anglican Lichfield Cathedral.

With the original medieval shrine to St Chad in Lichfield set to be reinstated, the Archdiocese of Birmingham decided to give the relic to the Anglicans as an ecumenical gesture of Christian solidarity and fellowship.

Father Jan Nowotnik, director of mission and national ecumenical officer at the Bishops’ Conference, was in attendance throughout the day, which he described as “beautiful” and “very emotive”, and included an ecumenical service.

Explaining the significance of the transfer he said: “It’s a generous gift because it’s predicated on relationship. Archbishop Bernard Longley, the Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, and Bishop Michael Ipgrave, the Anglican bishop of Lichfield, have a friendship, as the do the deans of both cathedrals.

“The Anglicans are very happy to have this relic so it can become a focal point for Christians in the Midlands.”

St Chad, a monk and abbot, was made bishop of Mercia in 669 and moved his See from Repton to Lichfield. Together with his brother Cedd, St Chad is credited by the Venerable Bede with introducing Christianity to the Mercian kingdom.

Father Nowotnik said: “The transfer of the relic came from an ecumenical gesture, as the two cathedrals have been on walking pilgrimages together, and the Catholics carried the relic of St Chad.

“In doing so, this brought interest from the Anglican side about the relic. The idea grew that the Catholics would offer this relic to the cathedral at Lichfield. It has a historical significance because that is where St Chad was based.”

Father Nowotnik described how the day played out:

“The church was full of Anglicans and Catholics who had gathered. The service was just beautiful. There was a great sense of joy, joy and gratitude that we had been brought together. There was a desire to walk together, and be an example of Christian witness to people in the area. When Archbishop Bernard hugged Bishop Ipgrave, after both of them had spoken, there was a round of applause.

“As the National Ecumenical Officer, I found it very moving.”

Christian ecumenism was one of the primary concerns of the Second Vatican Council which has continued under Pope Francis’ papacy, who according to Father Nowotnik “leads by example”. For the Birmingham-born priest, Christian ecumenism is merely responding to the directions of Jesus, although he emphasised that “we cannot shy away from the fact that there are theological differences between Christians”.

He said: “Ecumenism is rooted in the prayer of Christ on the eve of his Passion, in John Chapter 17, where Jesus prays that we may all be one. This desire for the unity of the church is a response to the Lord’s own prayer. So if it is something that the Lord wants from his people, that we live in unity, then we are conscious of this in our contemporary age of division in the Church.

“We can’t go back and change history but what we can do is say that in the here and now, we will attempt to put those words of the Lord into practice, to fulfil his prayer, and to do our best to journey together in the light of faith.”

Father Jan hoped that the significance of the transfer of the relics would be felt not just today, but in many generations to come. He said: “When you have done something like this, it’s not just an act for once, but the very act of remembering that you have done it impels you to want to continue working together and building on the relationships that are already there.”

He finished by saying that when it comes to the future of Christian ecumenism “my hope would be, notwithstanding our theological challenges and differences, that we will concentrate on what binds us together – our love of God, our love of the scriptures, our desire to love our brothers and sisters – and to provide an example to the world in which live.”


With thanks to Randy OHC on Flickr – CC BY 2.0