This Thursday 18th January, we begin a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Christian Unity is one of my spiritual passions and I thank God for the ecumenical friendships I have, with the Hampshire Church leaders and not least with Bishop Jonathan, the Anglican Bishop of Portsmouth (pictured). Pope Francis sees working for unity as a priority and the Synod of Bishops in Rome last October, graced by the presence of ecumenical delegates, re-affirmed that “what unites us is greater than what divides us. For in common we have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, among all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-6)” The obligation to work for unity comes from the Lord Himself. On the night before He died, Jesus prayed to the Father asking “… that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17-20). Those six words “That they may be one” have become a useful shorthand for the ecumenical movement but they are much more than that: they are a divine command. Of course, Jesus also makes it clear that the unity for which he prays is not an end in itself, but that it is needed “so that the world may believe”.
I know that many of you too not only recognise God’s will in your search for unity, but also hold His command close to your hearts. The consultation for the diocesan ten-year plan You Will be My Witnesses provoked a number of comments about the significance of “doing together that which we do not need to do apart” (to paraphrase the late Cardinal Hume) and in the plan (page 49 – “Church Beyond Walls”) you will read that “The positive experience of working with other Christians was a theme throughout our consultations.” One of the concrete Actions in the Plan calls for every parish to “Participate in joint service and mission to the wider local community through Churches Together.” So I leave you with an invitation – or, if you prefer, a challenge. If your parish isn’t currently a member of a local churches group, how might it get involved? And, if such a group does not yet exist in your area, or maybe it has been “resting” for a while, could your parish take the lead in setting up or rejuvenating a new Churches Together Group? Finally, if your parish is already an active participant in Churches Together, how could you contribute personally? [Image: Diocese of Portsmouth]