A new Vicar and the Week of prayer for Christian Unity.
This week we’ve heard the announcement that a new vicar has been appointed for the two churches on Sudbury, All Saints and St Gregory’s. The name of the vicar will be revealed on Sunday. It will mark the beginning of a new chapter of Anglican Christian ministry in this Town. Two churches, from differing traditions within the Church of England, can look forward to working with a new Vicar, exploring new ways of working together. Last week also brought to a close the week of prayer for Christian unity. We often think Christian unity is about other churches and other denominations, but it’s about much more than that.
Christian unity is much more than just being nice to the church down the road, or in another city or country who “do church” differently. Whatever brand we subscribe to, we are not different Christians because we do or don’t wear dog collars, or robes, or do or don’t light candles, or prefer drums and guitars to choirs and organs. Divisions between Christians are about how we understand words, concepts and ideas about God. These words and ideas come from Scripture and our tradition. To some Christians, Scripture is Holy and infallible, to some it is not, and if it is not, how is it Holy and when is it is not infallible? Then there are questions like, what is a Priest? Do we need ordained people at all, or will any Baptized Christian do to celebrate Holy Communion? What does Holy Communion mean, or Baptism or marriage, particularly who is allowed to be married, and what is the point of Bishops?!
Division between Christians is now much more likely to be about issues and ethics, than it is about vestments or worship bands or what denomination we align ourselves with. There are divisions in all Christian expressions; about things that really affect people’s lives, things like Assisted dying, contraception and abortion; about the place of women in church and worship, about the status of Gay people and trans people, about how we atone for our racist past and present, how we use our resources and respect the planet. On all of these and other issues, there are many Christianity’s, with beliefs that sometimes contradict each other, and we will never understand the other by using the vocabulary of our own tribe, because members of the other tribe don’t use our vocabulary. We need to listen to the “other” and learn to understand them.
We are particularly challenged in the Church of England, because all of these differing tribes exist within one church. We are challenged to be a Christian presence in our land and to make something good for God out of our differences. Perhaps we have vocations to be Anglicans because we can regard our differences as a blessing, not a curse?
We will doubtless be challenged in Sudbury as two different Anglican churches with two different but intersecting Christian stories, seek to share a vicar, and minister to this town. The Christian unity for which we pray, will need to be very real.
How do we find a common truth? What is it that different believing people, usually of good will, can agree on and gather around?
The Themes of justice within the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures remain timeless and indisputable. Can our core values be more about who we can set free rather than who we can exclude or prove wrong? Can they be more about challenging a divided society to look at the reasons for the division and model a way of living with difference which seeks to use it as an opportunity for growth not division? Can we look at the inequalities caused by wealth distribution, by prejudice, selfishness, greed, and discrimination. If we keep our eyes on Jesus’ call to be the liberators and not the enslavers to our own rightness, might we find common ground?
To do so, we need to engage with difference and not push it away or deny it, to do so is to deny so much creativity and opportunity for learning. If we can accept that not everyone sees life or faith in the same way, but that’s OK because God is bigger than we are and might want it to demonstrate the kaleidoscopic of his creation and his church for us to grow in love for each other. If we can do this, might we be offering a model to a fractious, suspicious, and divided nation and world even?
I’m reminded of an Israeli poet who said, “the place where we are right is a barren place, a hard and unfruitful, unhearing place”
It’s a great feeling to be right in an argument but does it enable growth? Does it enable new ways of being human to emerge, new ways of loving to grow? “You’re wrong and the only way I can love you is if you change to be “right like me” will never bring about unity of any kind, not in our nation, and certainly not in our church. The friendliness which I have experienced in several Christian communities in Sudbury over the past 6 months, has been heartwarming. Friendliness and kindness must be at the centre of any relationship. So, as we start to think about the future, lets give a big HOORAH for friendship as the bed rock of unity!
With prayers and all good wishes for the future