Although I am a cradle Anglican and love my Church, my life has been enriched through many ecumenical opportunities.
I discovered the joys of everything from alternative musical settings for hymns through two years as a pianist for a Presbyterian Church to insights shared bible study, worship and work with colleagues in a school in India from many Christian traditions to many years of in depth theological conversation with Roman Catholics that has opened my eyes to understand Roman Catholic polity as a gift in the search for Christian unity.
In these days of fragility for many congregations one of the first questions I ask parish leaders is whether they have had conversations with their other Christian partners in the community – are there ways to share ministry needs to strengthen each other? Share a building? Share clergy leadership where possible? Share people resources in outreach and social justice actions together?
Most often the answer to my question is ‘no’. Yet we are brothers and sisters in Christ for the sake of the Gospel. Christ prayed for the disciples ‘that they might be one’ (John 17). Our visible disunity is a serious stumbling block to those seeking God and God’s love who see us divided and sometimes squabbling. I am grateful for those expressions in our diocese of sharing with Lutheran neighbours and clergy as a start!
I am often asked why I bother with Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue since there is no chance of further expressions of unity in light of the stumbling blocks between us – not least of which is my own ordination. Yet, in that dialogue I find a deep, abiding sense of our foundational unity in Christ alongside the opportunity to reflect honestly about my own tradition in light of learning more about the other. This leads sometimes to deeper appreciation of the gifts we Anglicans have to share and sometimes to the realization that we have gifts we need to receive from our Roman Catholic partner.
This need for greater visible unity in our life has an immediate and poignant opportunity for expression in the midst of our diocese. With the closure of our Cathedral for public gatherings during the ongoing discernment of repairs needed to the roof, our brothers and sisters in the United Church have offered us shelter for the celebration of my service of Welcome & Seating on November 26th. Although I am disappointed that this service will not take place in the physical space of our own beloved cathedral I am deeply aware of the symbolism of this moment. Unable to be ‘home’ we have been granted hospitality by our neighbour, Metropolitan United Church, with open arms.
In the midst of these fragile times for congregations we are starting our journey of ministry together with the symbol of sharing resources with a neighbouring community. Our buildings are important but not more important than gathering as God’s people in our diocese for worship and celebration together. We have found ways to bring some pieces of Anglican heritage with us for worship – including a Bishop’s chair purported to have belonged to Bishop Hellmuth in which to seat me! We are witnessing to our flexibility as a community and our unity and brothers and sisters in Christ in this action of hospitality.
May this celebration be the start of many opportunities to express our unity in Christ with our Christian siblings in the coming years!