25 January 2007


I have had the opportunity to listen to 2 wise Christian leaders in recent weeks – Archbishop Sentamu and Rev Graham Carter, current President of the Methodist Conference. Both were inspiring and much of what each said seemed to me to echo the other. (My reflections on what they said are mine alone – sadly I cannot vouch for the reliability of my memory, so I should emphasise that these are my impressions of what I heard!)

They both touched on the subject of community, in terms of how we relate to other Christian denominations and, as Christians, to other faith groups, whilst remaining true to our own distinctive beliefs. To me, and doubtless to others too, this had resonance for the differing groups within the CofE and the Anglican Communion too!

Graham Carter made the point that unity and community is about much more than simply going down a statement of faith and ticking boxes. Both he and Abp Sentamu stressed the importance of listening to each other with respect, but that those of other faiths did not expect – or want – Christians to abandon our beliefs. We should however engage in dialogue and work together wherever we can, as a recognition and reflection of our common humanity. Both leaders were also very clear that we cannot expect – nor should we claim – to understand God, nor to know the entire truth.

In her blog, Kathryn has recently reminded me of Henri Nouwen’s book of reflections, Bread for the Journey. I have started to use these again – and just the other day there was this reflection on community:

Community, a quality of heart.

The word community has many connotations, some positive, some negative. Community can make us think of a safe togetherness, shared meals, common goals and joyful celebrations. It also can call forth images of sectarian exclusivity, in-group language, self-satisfied isolation, and romantic naiveté. However, community is first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another. Community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own (see Philippians 2:4). The question therefore is not “How can we make community?” but “How can we develop and nurture giving hearts?”

[Emphases mine]

Are we as a Church – am I as an individual – exclusive, self-satisfied and isolated? Or are we – am I – open-hearted, looking outwards, seeing the interests and concerns of others as more important than my own?

May God build in us, and through us, broad, inclusive communities where we can share our humanity in safety, trust and love.

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