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Durham University

Centre for Catholic Studies

Ecclesial Learning About Women and the English Churches Through Receptive Ecumenism

This research, funded by the National Board of Catholic Women (NBCW), was conducted by the Rev. Dr Gabrielle Thomas from October 2017 to June 2019.

It explores the experiences (both positive and negative) of women within their respective ecclesial traditions/contexts, asks what kinds of gifts women bring to their churches, and tests how Receptive Ecumenism helps women from radically diverse traditions learn and receive gifts from one another. At the heart of Receptive Ecumenism lies the belief that each faith tradition has an ecumenical responsibility to ask, ‘What do we need to learn from the other to help us address difficulties in our own tradition?’

The churches represented in the research include Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Orthodox, United Reformed, Assemblies of God, Independent Evangelical and Independent Pentecostal. In total, 122 women, ranging from 21 to 91 years of age, have contributed to this research, either through focus groups or interviews. Five focus groups were held during 2018, each comprising between 8 and 18 women. The groups gathered in various locations across England and met during the day for 6-8 hours.

The project report is designed to:
  • Demonstrate the complexity of women’s experiences of working within a range of churches in England
  • Provide a snapshot of how women are using their gifts across diverse churches
  • Outline some of the challenges women encounter within their traditions
  • Inspire women to engage in Receptive Ecumenism more widely

Three different models of engaging in Receptive Ecumenism were developed during the research. These are copyright-free and can be used by anyone who would like to explore Receptive Ecumenism within small or large groups.

Outputs from the research


Monograph in production

  • Gabrielle Thomas, Receiving Gifts from the Other: Ecumenical Learning from Women for the Whole Church (forthcoming, 2021)

Articles published in the popular press

Academic articles

  • Gabrielle Thomas, ‘A Call for Hospitality: Learning from a Particular Example of Women’s Grass Roots Practice of Receptive Ecumenism in the U.K.’ Exchange 47.4 (2018), 335-350.
  • Gabrielle Thomas, ‘Receiving Women’s Gifts: An Exploration of the
Role of Hospitality in the Practice of Receptive Ecumenism’ in Receptive Ecumenism: Listening, Learning and Loving in the Way of Christ, eds. Vicky Balabanski and Geraldine Hawkes, ATF Press. 
A Forum for Theology in the World Vol 5 No 2/2018, 123-134.
  • 'Mutual Flourishing in the Church of England: Learning from Thomas Aquinas’ Theology of Friendship' (forthcoming)
  • ‘Receptive Learning Between Churches’ in Global Christian Forum Third Global Gathering Proceedings April 2018, Bogotá, Columbia, edited by Larry Miller (forthcoming)

Edited book in production

  • Gabrielle Thomas and Dr Elena Narinskaya (editors): Women and Ordination in the Orthodox Church: Explorations in Theology and Practice (Wipf & Stock, 2020). Including contributions from Met. Kalistos Ware, Dr Elena Narinskaya, Prof. Mary Cunningham, Fr Andrew Louth, and Fr John Behr.


Presentations on the research (abroad)

  • Dec 2018: ‘The Way of Receptive Learning’, Faculty of Theology Research Seminar, University of Helsinki, Finland
  • Apr 2018: ‘Receptive Learning Between Churches’, Keynote Presentation at the Global Christian Forum Gathering, Bogotá, Columbia

Papers presented at academic conferences

  • Apr 2019: ‘Five Guiding Principles, Mutual Flourishing, and Thomas Aquinas on Grace and Friendship’, The Society of the Study of Theology Annual Conference
  • Sep 2018: ‘Reflections on Being a Woman Priest’ Plenary Presentation at ‘Orthodox Women’s Initiatives’ Annual Study Day, Pusey House, Oxford
  • Sep 2018: ‘Receiving the Gift: Ecclesial Learning about Women in U.K. Churches’, Ecclesiology and Ethnography Conference, St John’s College, Durham
  • Apr 2018: ‘Receptive Ecumenism, Women and Hospitality’, Paper presented at the 10th Anniversary Conference for the Centre of Catholic Studies, Durham University
  • Apr 2018: ‘Learning from the Grass Roots: Women and Receptive Ecumenism’, The Society of the Study of Theology Annual Conference

Participation in Common Award’s Colloquium on Receptivity

Research seminar

  • May 2019: ‘Women and Receptive Ecumenism’ Theology and Ministry Seminar, St John’s College, Durham

Outreach presentations

  • Jun 2019: Presentation to the St Alban’s Newman Group
  • Jan 2019: ‘Justice and Ecumenism’, Invited Speaker at the Annual Service of Christian Unity, Chapel of Unity, Coventry Cathedral
  • Dec 2018: ‘Receptive Learning’ at the IASCUFO gathering, Durham Cathedral
  • Sep 2018: ‘Biblical Witness to Receptive Ecumenism’, Receptive Ecumenism Conference, Bromsgrove Methodist Church
  • May 2018: ‘Cappadocian Prayer’, Exarchate UK Deanery Conference & Festival
  • Mar 2018: ‘Humility and Ecumenism’, Service of Unity in Coventry Cathedral