Rector's Letter - Working together
The Rectory - February 2006
Writing in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and the day after our conference in the Council House at which, with the magnificent help of Len Simmonds, we were able to reflect in some depth on the nature of the changing city in which we live and minister, it seems important to think about where our relations with sister and brother Christians actually are, and whether there is any hope for real and substantive advance in our relationships with one another.
The really encouraging thing about the conference was the number of people present, representing almost every shade of Christian tradition and experience; there was also, I am glad to say, appreciation for the initiative we had taken, and a recognition of the significance for the life of our churches of understanding and responding to the context of our city. We may physically stand 'at the Centre of the City', and our buildings may be instantly recognisable, as they have been over many, many generations – and they may speak to people of security and stability in a world of constant change – but is that enough? Is it enough to walk around the city and to see a dozen or so buildings, ancient or not so ancient, and to know that (to be reassured by, or to ignore) the Christian tradition continues within? It is really a silly question, because we would all answer 'No' to it. But the question is, do we have the courage, the interest, even the ability to look beyond our own noses, and to listen to those who may have a different perspective on our life from our own? We need to. And for Anglicans it is very difficult to do. There is an inbuilt arrogance in many of our assumptions, which creates bad feeling and suspicion even among other Christian bodies. That was being expressed by a number of people at our conference.
The need for the Christian voice and the Christian presence to be felt in the city is undeniably great. I think there was unanimous agreement on that. At the moment it is not there, and there is a long way to go before we see how we can do it. But the primary reason for the conference was to offer to other churches an opportunity, as we develop our changes as parishes, to come in with us at the strategic planning level, before we have made substantive decisions about what structures are needed, so that we really can work out some of these things together – but most importantly, how we can serve our city more effectively and in better partnership with one another. It was a first step. A second step will follow as quickly as we can arrange it. That will be the test.
Christian churches are still very different from one another. They start with different assumptions, they work and pray in different styles. They are motivated for mission by a range of expectations and understandings of the Christian vocation. Deep down we fear one another. We look for natural allies, and try to justify avoiding those we find difficult by poo-pooing them. That is sad – human but sad. The challenge is laid down – and has been repeated over and over again – by the Lund Principle of 1952: “Can we do together everything that we don't in conscience have to do apart?” That means making our relations with one another central to our life, not peripheral. And that's quite a challenge.
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