The Christian family is entering an important year, one of both commemoration and renewal in the quest for Christian Unity. We will be recalling that it has been 500 years ago that the western Church fractured into several parts due to the pressing need for comprehensive reform: we will remember Martin Luther, John Calvin, Menno Simons, Huldrych Zwingli and others, the Elizabethan Settlement in Britain and a bit later the Wesley brothers. These divisions, though painful and full of conflict at the time, have nevertheless been blessed in surprising ways by God’s Spirit, evident in the particular charisms, strengths and gifts of each tradition: Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Reformed, Mennonite, United and later on the family of Pentecostal and Evangelical Churches.
While critics of Christianity like to use our divisions as a way to discredit God’s work among us, we could refute some of that criticism by being precise about the divisions. We have come a long ways since the days of the hostile exchanges in the 16th century. What began as reasons for parting company, have over time revealed themselves as unique strengths in each tradition, making us realize more and more that we truly need one another to embody the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When standing together with courage and humility, the weakness in one tradition can be compensated by the strength in another, and vice versa.
In a world that has grown weary of organized religion we are subject to rigorous scrutiny in the quality of our dealings with one another. An anniversary of this magnitude is a good occasion to stand still and assess our own spiritual season — personally, denominationally and collectively. How can we help heal the Body of Christ this year?
In our area we are truly blessed with a vibrant ecumenical spirit that generates all kinds of opportunities for common prayer and mission, common witness and study. For the ninth year in a row, women who are professionally employed in their respective churches (ordained and lay) meet to break bread together at monthly lunches. These lunches have formed a lifeline for my own spirit. Our numbers fluctuate according to busy schedules and availability, but monthly attendance averages between 8-14 women. We share the joys and sorrows of our ministry experiences, we share resources and meaningful conversation, pray together while celebrating and strengthening one another for our common mission in service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ among God’s holy people in all our churches.
Besides the lunches, our region will be blessed by several ecumenical conferences and retreats this fall. A Fall Conference on the Reformation is being organized by the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism. A unique ecumenical program is starting at Queen’s House later this month that seeks to find concrete ways of learning to engage in difficult conversations when stakes are high. Next is the Ecumenical Women’s Retreat in October and the Women’s Journey of Faith Conference in early November. Later on in January 2017 there will be the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and the DeMargerie Ecumenical Lecture series. The invitations to engage this year in meaningful ways are plentiful.
If you live in an ecumenically impoverished area, this may be a good time for new initiatives. Numerous ecumenical documents produced by international, national and local dialogue groups can be found online. Seek out Christian sisters and brothers from another church and suggest that you gather for prayer and study together. It doesn’t have to be an academic class or a demanding intellectual exercise.
On a Sunday morning attend worship in another church, share in social activities among churches, learn about both commonalities and differences. Reach out and join hands in common mission in service of those in need, build friendships and pray together, share in the joy of discovering common faith in Jesus. Rather than allow differences to keep us apart, let yourself be enriched by them as opportunities for learning and growing. It is really not that hard.
Pope Francis himself is planning several ecumenical meetings and visits fall to kick off this year of recalling and renewing. While less interested in intellectual dialogue, Pope Francis has proven his ecumenical wisdom by actions and encounters of all sorts. A meeting in Assisi with high-ranking religious leaders, a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and a papal visit to Lund, Sweden, to inaugurate the 2016-2017 Commemoration of the Reformation are just a few items on the Holy Father’s schedule in the next two months.
Join many others throughout the world as we take this opportunity to recall and repent, to renew and restore a credible witness in the world to the Good News of God who loved the world so much that He gave his only Son, whose last prayer uttered on earth was the burning desire that we would be one. Do not underestimate what the Holy Spirit can do with willing spirits and hearts burning with Jesus’ desire for unity among his disciples!
As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:21-23)
Some helpful sites to whet your appetite and fill you with ideas:
Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue (note the A-RC Pilgrimage of bishops taking place Sept. 30 – Oct. 7, among whom is none other than our own Bishop Donald Bolen 🙂 )
Evangelical – Catholic Dialogue in Saskatoon: Common Statement of Faith
2017 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Resources
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