May 2011 Letter

 

By the time you read this, our group of parishes will have an additional member of the clergy licensed to work with us for part of the time, our new Associate Minister, the Rev’d Christopher Cant.  This is exciting news, and you will soon be seeing Chris around both at Sunday services and on a couple of days during the week.  I hope that next month, he will write a bit about himself for the magazines but for now I will just mention that he has a very interesting past experience of ministry, having worked as a missionary and then been ordained in the Church of Pakistan before returning to England and being ordained as a priest in the Church of England.

 

Thinking about Chris’s experience of very different churches brings me on very neatly to a subject I have touched on before but which has been hovering at the back of my mind a lot recently – that of the way our different churches, groups and denominations fit together  (or more often perhaps don’t fit together!) and what that means for us as Christians.  After all, we follow Jesus who said ‘this is how they will know you are my disciples, because you love one another’ and just before he went out to the Garden of Gethsemane, when he knew he was soon going to be betrayed and die, prayed that his followers would ‘be one’ just as he and his Father were one.

 

There are many reasons why over the years, different types of Christian churches have sprung up – whether because of differences in the details of what we believe, or different preferences about the way we worship – some reasons big and serious and other on issues which would hardly worry anyone today.  And sadly it is always easier for a split to happen than for it to be repaired.  Once two churches have grown separately for a while, even if they manage to resolve their original disagreement, a whole host of different customs and practices will have sprung up, not to mention separate buildings being built and separate hierarchies of ministry and management evolved, all of which make it almost impossible to re-merge.

 

So what should we be doing?  And what does God think of all this?  Well, the first thing is, that I’m sure God knows exactly what we are like – frail human beings to whom quarrelling and taking offence at each other comes almost as naturally as breathing.  Jesus’s disciples were no exception to that, and neither were the people of the church in the years that followed his death, as recorded in the books and letters of the New Testament.  And he also knows that we are all different – he made us that way, after all – and so perhaps it isn’t surprising that some of us feel most able to worship in the glories of a cathedral while others of us find God far more present in the simplicity of a simple chapel.  Some of us are ‘words’ people and thrive on good solid sermons that give the mind and spirit something to chew on and others are drawn by silence, or symbolism, or ritual that draws the body as well as the mind and spirit into worship.  So if different churches are able to draw different groups and types of people closer to God, that is surely part of the working out of God’s promise that ultimately ‘all things work together for good for those who love God’.

 

The second thing is, that real unity is much more likely to develop from the bottom up than from the top down.  It is hard to merge institutions, but much less difficult simply to try to work together with each other in doing the work that God has given us, and that is something that the churches in these parishes and in the local area generally are very keen to work on.  If you get a chance to go to the Devon County Show, you can see that working out in practice at the Churches tent, run by Churches Together in Devon.

 

And the third thing, which is the main thing, is that Jesus commanded us to ‘love each other’, not ‘agree with each other’ – which is probably just as well.  Unity doesn’t have to mean that we all do the same things, or like the same things or even believe all the same things – but it does mean that we have to learn to love each other even when we disagree.  That has been the biggest test God sets us down the years, and we have failed it many times, but look at it this way - every time we have another disagreement, we have another chance to get it right!

 

Rev’d Karen Spray     01392 877400     church@revdkaren.org.uk

 

 

 

 


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