Image of patience on a monument by Maia C via Flickr
This is the fifth of eight posts reflecting upon a recent paper released by the Conference of European Churches. The background can be found in a post on Methodist Ecumenical News. The paper is Visions of Unity in Our Churches - Points of Convergence.
The report includes eight points of convergence and I thought it might be interesting to consider them one by one.
The search for unity always exists in a particular context. We have to discern how our quest for unity relates to the timing of God and demands of mission in any given time or situation. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5) and one we must exercise when considering how to take forward the ecumenical agenda, not confusing God’s timing with our own.
The search for unity takes place in many different contexts. The way this is phrased implies it can nevertheless be controlled from a central perspective. We identify the particular context and then our theologians will come up with a well researched and reasoned answer.
Well, theologians of the world, I have news for you (and most of you will know this already): there is no particular context for the search for unity. It's much more complicated than that, isn't it?
Let's start with geography. A neighbourhood. How many churches are in that neighbourhood? Do they all relate to one another? Is it not possible churches close the edge might relate to different churches or even think they're in a different neighbourhood?
And can we be certain the members of any given local church agree about church unity, have the same aims? And of course, the context is not just local. Do the church members know the views of their local, regional and national church hierarchy?
Then there are inter-generational differences. And differences based upon race or family background.
It is comforting to know patience is a fruit of the spirit and 'one we must exercise when considering how to take forward the ecumenical agenda'. Who is this 'we'? It is a little word that often gives a lot away. Does it mean the people at this particular consultation? Or the church hierarchies? Whoever they are, it seems we can safely leave it in their hands. God's timing?
We're offered some platitudes about patience. What is it about God's timing? You'd think God has agreed with the ecumenical statements made by the churches but not finally settled on a timescale. Nonsense! Whatever happens will not emerge from the writings of theologians or agreements between church leaders. We will stumble upon the living reality of unity in Christ in the struggle to work out a way forward together in many localities, despite the impossibility of fully comprehending what is going on globally.