Convergence is the word to describe what you might call the “first stage” of ecumenism. It means recognizing that other churches hold some truths in common with your own—that Jesus is Lord, for instance.
In our pluralistic world today, such convergence probably doesn’t sound very impressive. But the fact that so many churches have converged on basic points of Christian belief is actually a remarkable achievement. Even a hundred years ago, it would have been hard for the churches to agree on this much. This coming-together developed out of shared experiences that put divided Christians in each other’s company, often for the first time.
For instance, Catholic and Protestant soldiers during the Second World War discovered how much they had in common as they survived extreme circumstances together. Christian prisoners of war and victims of state persecution have also made this discovery; they have joined together for support against their oppressors. One of the most common ecumenical experiences is in so-called “mixed marriages,” where one partner is Catholic and the other is Protestant (or Catholic-Orthodox, or Orthodox-Protestant, or different kinds of Protestants). In fact, guidelines for “mixed marriages” are often among the first things to be decided by churches working towards convergence. In all these cases, divided Christians have discovered that they pray to the same God, read the same Bible, strive to obey the same Ten Commandments, and so on.
Stating convergence is most often the result of multilateral dialogues between many different churches, as opposed to bilateral dialogues, which are between just two churches. Multilateral dialogues have been the main focus, for instance, of the World Council of Churches. Very basic ecumenical statements come out of this kind of multilateral cooperation. For example, the ecumenically famous statement Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry does not make decisions about controversial issues like how old you should be when you are baptized, or whether Christ is really present in the eucharist, or whether ordained ministers should be married or celibate. Instead it finds what all the many different churches can say together, such as: the church performs certain acts called baptism and the eucharist; baptism and eucharist are described this way in the Bible; all churches have some kind of ministers to order congregational worship; and so on. It is about what all churches have in common despite the areas in which they disagree. The hope is that recognition of this vast commonality will set the churches on a trajectory leading to a united future.