We are midway through The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year there are two events of significance for us St. Mark’s by-the-Lake. On Sunday night past we had a great celebration of Justice and Peace with our friends from St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church. The liturgy was entirely planned by the Outreach and Justice Teams at St. Mark’s and St. Greg’s. The music, the prayers and the spirit of our celebration was great. Father Gary Goyeau was the preacher and he outlined for us a great challenge to find new ways to reach out ourselves to make poverty less prevalent and to make peace more real. It was a good night and we were thrilled to have Elizabeth, and Josephine and Susan with us. They are refugees from the Sudan that both congregations worked together to bring to Canada. May God continue to inspire us all in our congregations to do the work of justice.
The next event is Wednesday night, when I will be guest preacher at an ecumenical service at Bethel-Maidstone United. We look forward to seeing our friends from the Essex ministerial. The liturgy begins at 7 PM. We would love to see you there.
The subject of Christian Unity is an interesting one. I am sure that it will not be a surprise to those of you who know me that ecumenism is an important part of my life and is a large element of my theology. Catherinanne is a Roman Catholic and we have been living ecumenism for over 12 years. So I am pleased this week to have a couple of opportunities to celebrate the idea of ‘church unity,’
My theology of church unity is in many ways influenced by Dietrich Bonheoffer. He had a great understanding of what ecumenism really is. He asserted that it was not "one theology and one rite, one opinion upon all things both public and private, and one mode of conduct in life," but rather "one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism. . ."For Bonheoffer, all people believing or practicing the same thing was not only not realistic but was also not really good church unity. He understood diversity to be an important gift of God’s giving. Unity is something that comes from God and cannot come strictly from humanity. Archbishop Ted Scott was a great leader and understood social justice. He said that what defined us as Anglicans, what defined our unity was, in fact, our diversity. Those two people really have lived the idea of ecumenism. You see I do nit see church unity as the number one priority. That is to say, I do not see having to have all people subscribe to the same thoughts, and way of being is not helpful. We need, all of us, to focus our energy on being church. We need to be what Christ has called us to. We need to be focus on living justice and making the love us Jesus real. When we do that we will come to know that we are one. We are one when we focus our attention on being servant. When we one when we understand what a great gift our diversity is. We are not all alike. We do not have the same preferences. We do not all express ourselves in the same fashion. Ecumenism is our opportunity to celebrate the fact that even though we may all be different we might all have a common understanding of who we are called to be. Ecumenism is a celebration of the fact that our oneness comes from God. We may not be able to make oneness. We may not be able to see that we are all the same in God’s eyes. We may not realize that we are all parts of the one body. But the oneness and the commonality we all share in the Body of Christ are given by God’s hand and as such are great gifts. They are gifts that speak not of us being the same but instead of us being unified by our common experience. The diverse gifts that we bring are indicators of the diverse nature of God’s love which transcends all division, hatred, violence or discord.
This Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a good time for us find community in the broadest context and embrace the notion that we can all make a difference. I love the fact that St. Greg’s and St. Mark’s have been able to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.” This has been possible because we focus on love and on the other. We focus on what unites us not what divides. This week we all search for ways that we can celebrate that sense of unity. I leave you with today’s mediation from Henri Nouwen.
“Community is not possible without the willingness to forgive one another "seventy-seven times" (see Matthew 18:22). Forgiveness is the cement of community life. Forgiveness holds us together through good and bad times, and it allows us to grow in mutual love.
But what is there to forgive or to ask forgiveness for? As people who have hearts that long for perfect love, we have to forgive one another for not being able to give or receive that perfect love in our everyday lives. Our many needs constantly interfere with our desire to be there for the other unconditionally. Our love is always limited by spoken or unspoken conditions. What needs to be forgiven? We need to forgive one another for not being God!”