Today's reflection comes from Rev Graeme Halls
This is day 2 of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. At the beginning of my ministry this was a major event in the year, where people from different churches in the area met together for study and prayer. And it was good. I sense that it has dropped off the agenda since.
The dream of organic church unity has I think died, some LEP’s and other ecumenical work continue, although many have ceased, and countless hours have been spent in Wales on this very matter, to little avail. Sometimes circumstances force the debate on us, but we do not enter in willingly or joyfully.
Read Psalm 57.
This is a personal lament, probably written in the years before the exile, say 600 BC. The writer prays for mercy and victory, even in the teeth of defeat. God will be faithful, even if present circumstances are desperate. A message for today!! It took longer that the Psalmist hoped. We are called to be one, yet cannot find it in us to deliver Jesus prayer in John’s gospel. What makes the Psalms sometimes a hard read is the constant reference to enemies. Of course for him they were a real and ever present threat, but it also may be how we feel at times.
When I came to Wales first in 1992 I went to the LEP in east Cardiff, at St Mellons. It was the vision of 5 Church leaders who had instigated a number of joint Churches in the area. They were highly committed to it, our own Donald Knighton and Bishop Rowan Williams at the fore. But frankly locally it was chaos, and little loved by its diverse membership.
In Jersey I discovered ecumenism in the way Cardiff east was brought about, personal relationships. I have been fortunate to find this in the Cardiff Prison Chaplaincy team, Headlands School and in other places, but in Jersey the 3 denominational (RC, CofE and Methodist) leaders were the core Church leadership group in Jersey. But we found new friendship and fellowship as that group grew to include the leaders of the Islamic and Jewish communities. It was not what we agreed on that mattered, but that we stood together, we met, ate and represented the unity we had as people of faith. And it was a joy, privilege and it was respected in the Island. It also helped that the Synagogue and Mosque were former Methodist Chapels and we welcomed and supported this!
Fred Pratt green wrote the hymn below.
I remember when as a teenager he came nearby for a day conference on his hymns and a friend and I went. We were young and it was a bit trying but I have loved his hymns since that day. Verse 5 speaks to me in its widest sense. Out of all the problems unity can be found. Healing is possible. But only when we desire and seek it.
My guess is that we have lost the desire for Church Unity. It just proved too difficult for each Church to give enough to make it happen, the prize of unity and co-operation not enough to make it happen. The friendships that existed could not be turned into lasting change.
Read Luke 4:31-44.
After 2 stories involving demons, Jesus resists the temptation to stay as he is, where he is, with whom he is. He has to go. It is not just an evangelical venture, but about what the Kingdom of God looks like, ‘I must go because this is what God wants me to do’. It is not function but heart. Interestingly in Synagogues, he had not yet, like Wesley (who ‘consented to be more vile’ and preached in the outdoors) ventured into the fields. But he would. He went to difficult areas to reveal God’s new Kingdom in word and deed.
The Week of Prayer may be a relic of the past, but its failure does not mean there is not hope. The Psalmist believed absolutely in God’s faithfulness, Jesus believed in his mission, the new Methodist Way of Life document is about being faithful to God, our roots and our values, as we seek to reach out and serve in his name. As Fred Pratt Green puts it, the wholeness that enriches all of humankind, so that our oneness in God, which has perhaps previously been too superficial, may find the depth to make the sacrifices necessary and make Jesus prayer (John 17:23) come about.
Almighty God, help us to recognise our unity in Christ with all your people in every place, and to understand that whatever may divide us, whatever we may disagree about, it should never destroy the fellowship we share. End our division and bring unity to fruition, so that the world may believe. Amen.