Untiy. What a loaded word. I’m even at a loss as to how I’d like to begin the discussion this week. Since this is a blog for our Diocese, I really do try to keep my personal opinions out – although I’m also pretty sure you might be able to read between the lines and figure out where I stand on some issues. As I regularly listen to my favorite news sources, one impression seems to come through quite clearly: unity is not something we are seeing much of in this country right now. We seem to be more polarized every day.
A week ago, I read a particularly disturbing debate on Facebook between two FB friends of mine. Harsh words were shared and, I’m guessing, feelings were hurt. The whole thing gave me pause. I finally decided I would express my thoughts so here’s what I wrote that day:
I have been lovingly accused at looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. I’ll own that…sometimes. What I can’t see is how this propensity to view the nation (and the world) as “us vs them” will ever get us anywhere. We’ve become more divisive, more critical, and more angry with every news story and political statement. “We” are sure we are right; “they” are sure they are right. How will we ever be able to work together to make this country safe and stable if we continue on the path we’re on? Most of us, my friends on FB and I, would say that we believe that all people are beloved by God. If that is our foundation, do our words and actions support it? I know that mine don’t always. But I firmly believe that something has to change or we will never see a healthy county for our children and their children. We need to ask on both sides: “Why do they feel that way? What in their lives got them here? How can I communicate love? How can I help?” Please understand that I’m speaking to myself, too.
Last Sunday, the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, the Rev. Diana Walworth expanded on this further in her sermon at my church, St Michael and All Angels in Cambridge Junction. Diana preached:
What is God trying to reveal to us through our lessons today? We are his! We as in all of us… the young, the old, the rich, the poor, the homeless, the immigrants, the refugees, those with autism, the drug addicts, the mentally ill, the Republicans, the Democrats, the Rams and the Patriots… we’re all on the same team. We all belong to God. And our mission is to love each other… not with a superficial polite love, but with the deep Christ-like love described in 1 Corinthians:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Perhaps by now you are beginning to wonder where this is all going. Well, we have a resolution from General Convention that presents us with the opportunity to explore our common mission with other faith communities:
Resolution A035: Commend “The Church: Towards a Common Vision”
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention commend to every Episcopalian for study both the 2013 convergence statement published by the World Council of Churches, The Church: Towards a Common Vision, and the draft response from The Episcopal Church, which can be found on the website of The Episcopal Church.
I did a search for the documents and found then as stated on the TEC website. Both are lengthy documents so I will not include the entire text of either here in this blog but recommend that you follow the links and read them: The Church: Towards a Common Vision
To help you get started, here is the forward to the original document written by Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches:
In my visits to the churches around the world, I am introduced to many challenges to the unity between and within the churches. The many ecumenical dialogues between churches and church families are a reality that contributes also to the multilateral relationships between them. New connections are established thereby. However, there is a certain and reasonable impatience among many to see more movement in the reception of ecumenical dialogues and agreements. Some of the churches and families of churches find that there are also new questions that are potentially dividing. The ecumenical movement seems also in some churches to have less power and fewer committed spokespersons than in earlier periods. There are tendencies toward fragmentation and more attention to what is uniting the few rather than the many. Of course, the call to unity is not ended by new challenges, rather the contrary. Yet we also need to see more dimensions of the call to unity and remind ourselves that we are always embraced by and called to love (1 Cor. 13).
Into this context the WCC’s Commission on Faith and Order presents to us a gift, a statement about the Church: it is a fruit of their many years of work on ecclesiology. Stemming from Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (1982) and the churches’ responses to it, The Church: Towards a Common Vision was received by the central committee in 2012 and sent to the churches to encourage further reflection on the Church and to seek their formal responses to the text. This study and its response process will have an important role in the coming years for discerning the next steps toward visible unity. Work on ecclesiology relates to everything the Church is and what its mission implies in and for the world. Thus,
The Church is rooted in the nature and mission of the Church. It reflects the constitutional aims and self-identity of the WCC as a fellowship of churches who call each other to the goal of visible unity.
Unity is a gift of life and a gift of love, not a principle of unanimity or unilateralism. We have a calling as a fellowship of churches to express the unity of life that is given to us in Jesus Christ, through his life, cross and resurrection so that brokenness, sin, and evil can be overcome. For as The Church proclaims: “The kingdom of God, which Jesus preached by revealing the Word of God in parables and inaugurated by his mighty deeds, especially by the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection, is the final destiny of the whole universe. The Church was intended by God, not for its own sake, but to serve the divine plan for the transformation of the world” (§ 58).
The Response from The Episcopal Church to The Church: Towards a Common Vision was accepted by the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church (TEC) on February 8, 2017. Its introduction states:
In the United States, Christian churches and in different ways other religious traditions struggle with changes in societal views of religious organizations, with the survival instincts these changes trigger within religious groups, and with the temptation to nostalgia and self-absorption that ensues. The lack of unity, mutual recognition, and co-operative mission among religious groups and within Christianity only accentuates the negative perception of Christianity….
Living into the unity of the church is not an easy task, but it is one we cannot renounce. The Episcopal Church is committed to finding the fullness of the church that makes our witness credible, however arduous and difficult that may seem.
From the conclusion to The Church: Towards a Common Vision, we read:
Our brokenness and division contradict Christ’s will for the unity of his disciples and hinder the mission of the Church. This is why the restoration of unity between Christians, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is such an urgent task.
Growth in communion unfolds within that wider fellowship of believers that extends back into the past and forward into the future to include the entire communion of saints. The final destiny of the Church is to be caught up in the
koinonia/communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to be part of the new creation, praising and rejoicing in God forever (cf. Rev. 21:1-4; 22:1-5).
Perhaps addressing unity within the Christian community is one good way to begin changing the prevailing culture of divisiveness and distrust within our other communities. If, as Christians, we can’t seem to get it right, how can we expect anyone else to engage in the process? I know, for one, I’m going to spend some more time considering both of these documents and see how the Holy Spirit might make them come alive in my life. I hope you will join me.
Let us pray:
Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council