Companions of the Community of the Resurrection

LONDON

Report from meeting held on 2 May, 2009

Nine of us met in the Gary Weston library at Southwark Cathedral. After a short Office for St. Athanasius' Day conducted by Fr. Nicholas Cranfield, Geoff Dignum spoke to us about the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We were particularly grateful to Geoff for going ahead with the talk as he had been unwell and was still convalescing. Some notes on Geoff's talk are below.

The Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Notes from a talk by Geoff Dignum

The Society was conceived in the autumn of 1966 at a reception given by the late Cardinal Suenens at his residence in Mechelen (Malines), Belgium . The reception was to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the last meeting, held in 1926, of Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians who had taken part in what were known as the "Malines Conversations" over the preceding few years. Cardinal Mercier, Archbishop of Malines between 1906 and 1926, was motivated to support these conversations by a consideration of the farewell discourse of Jesus to his disciples found in St. John’s Gospel, Chapter 13:

‘I give you a new commandment: Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples.’

Cardinal Mercier had left as his testament these words: ‘In order to unite with one another we must love one another. In order to love one another we must go and meet each other’. Cardinal Suenens, Archbishop of Malines from 1961 to 1979, had been a seminarian at the Belgian College in Rome when the conversations had taken place and had been befriended by one of the Roman Catholic participants in the Malines Conversations. Cardinal Suenens was involved in the preparatory work of the Second Vatican Council, and is thought to have had some influence on Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism.

Martin Gillett was a guest at the reception in 1966. He told Miss Veronica O’Brien, the Legion of Mary envoy to France and Belgium , that he would like to promote a movement to facilitate meetings between Christians of different traditions and thus the ESBVM was brought into being early in 1967. Martin Gillett was warned that Mary might be controversial as a figurehead but the Society grew and thrived. Events are dedicated to Marian studies, particularly to promote ecumenical devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to study her place in the Church. A main aim of the Society is also to enable Christians of different traditions to meet each other and so to dispel those factors which keep Christians apart, such as misunderstanding, ignorance, misconceptions, prejudice and isolation.

Initially there was a higher number of Anglican members than Roman Catholics but now there are Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Orthodox Christians and other traditions. Patrons of the Society include Archbishop Rowan, his predecessor, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and his predecessor, Orthodox Bishops and a Coptic Bishop. Lots of Methodists are now involved in the Society and there was an article in the last newsletter by the Minister of Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church.

A Congress is held every two years. Last year’s in the USA was the 14th. People are prepared to pray together nowadays and ecumenical offices of Morning and Evening Prayer prepared by a Methodist are held at Congress. A meeting was held two years ago at Lambeth Palace to celebrate the Society’s 40th anniversary. The Society has a newsletter for its members and the subscription is £8. It does have local groups and the London based one meets at the Church of St. Magnus the Martyr.

More information can be found at  www.esbvm.org.uk

Alternatively, the Society can be contacted at:

Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary
11, Belmont Road
Wallington
SM6 8TE

Telephone and Fax020 8647 5992.