Tomorrow marks the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, not that it matters much.
I expect many of the readers of this column didn’t even know the week had started. It used to be a big deal to come together with Christians from other denominations to pray, worship and learn about other denominations.
During the 1970s, when the ecumenical movement was in full swing, we realized that despite our particularities, we had lots in common. Since then though, the novelty of ecumenism has taken a back seat and denominations and congregations have shifted their focus to survival. It is hard work, to try to be the church of the past, while simultaneously reinventing it. We hold on to the fragments of the story that means something in our current climate of religious and institutional intolerance. And then comes the harder part, as decisions about folding, or selling and about membership and purpose prevail. The changing reality of a once influential institution makes all of us cling to our much-loved and familiar practice. We may actually be missing the point.
Circulating on social media is a picture of an Aboriginal elder with the words, “What if I told you that the right wing and the left wing belong to the same bird?”
I’ve been thinking about it since I saw it earlier this week. It strikes a chord when we feel so strongly about something that we are unable to hear even the most reasonable dissenting arguments. How often are we willing to sacrifice the life of the bird in order to win the argument rather than keeping the bird healthy enough to fly? In labour disputes, in custody battles, in political posturing before an election, this is seen and sadly, evidence of entrenched ideas can also be found in churches. The most sensible outcomes usually have the “heart of the matter” in mind.
Solving difficult labour disputes means the company keeps functioning and the needs of the many are met. With family splits, the best outcomes are the ones that cause the least amount of harm to the children involved, and political division is lessened when parties work together in a time of crisis. It can happen.
Perhaps churches might follow suit, or better still, set an example for others. By holding up the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the church can offer new purpose in ways that matter more than the comfort of tradition. The wisdom that the story hangs on, and the hope it continues to offer remain vital for any community of faith. Long after the organizational challenges shift and the pendulum comes back to centre, a faith for today needs to honour those timeless and wise stories of hope.
In a week where we seek to hear the same voice and read the same scriptures, that is something churches might want to unite for. In the end, nothing else really matters.
Rev. Donna Tourneur ministers with the people of New Glasgow at Trinity United Church.