From the Vicarage, October 2017

Being the whole Church of God

These days, with only rare exceptions on the extreme fringes of catholic and protestant belief, Christian of all denominations believe that we are all part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. That is, one church, united in believing the same fundamental things, but with different histories, and different traditions – different paths taken on the journey to where we are today. It is taken for granted that Christians of different denominations are in every important sense, working together to build the kingdom of God in this, and in every place.

But it was not always like that. It was only a few days ago, at the AGM of Churches Together in St Neots, that I fully realised exactly how long and how difficult a road it has been over the course of the last century or so, bringing the mainstream churches to a point where, even if there is still work to do in recognising one another’s formal ministries, we can cooperate and collaborate in so many ways. At that meeting, we celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of a conference of churches held in September 1987, that resulted in a formal statement, known as the Swanwick Declaration after the name of the place in Derbyshire where the conference was held. This declaration enshrines a desire and a commitment on behalf of all the churches ‘…to become more fully, in God’s own time, the one Church of Christ, united in faith, communion, pastoral care and mission.’

Churches Together in St Neots (initially known as the Council of Churches) dates back to the 1960s. Following on from the Swanwick Declaration, a formal covenant was agreed between the churches in St Neots, taking its lead, and much of its phraseology, from the spirit of the Swanwick document. This text is still read out and signed by representatives of all the churches at the service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity each January. You can find a copy of this in church. Whichever way you look at this history of discussions and deliberations, it’s clear that the Church as a whole, came a very long way over the course of the decades of the twentieth century. 

This was all interesting to me, because I knew very little of it. Having grown up in a parish that was always involved with ecumenical relationships, and come to maturity in a church where it was taken for granted that while we keep the distinctiveness of our diverse traditions intact, all churches are on a similar, converging path, I had given very little thought to how we got to where we are. This background helps to emphasise that the work of Churches Together is important, particularly as some of the activities that are part of our shared church life here in St Neots are in need of new people to help them continue.

Activities that really contribute to the life of the community, include the Christian Care Centre, a coffee shop run at the United Reformed Church in the High Street on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. This provides a real service to people, particularly those who live alone – a meeting place and somewhere for refreshment and a chat. Volunteers to help with the catering and serving are always needed and are drawn from all the churches. Also at the URC at the same times is the Tree of Hope shop, selling Fairtrade goods and cards of all kinds. I suspect that not many people actually know about this, but again, it’s well worth investigating and always needs volunteers to give up and hour or two to staff it. New members are also needed for the Littlehey Worship Group, who lead services in the prison chapel a few times a year. As you will imagine, this is an important, but sensitive ministry and if anyone is interested in knowing more, please speak to me in the first instance. The Foodbank, a joint activity of all the churches, is always in need of new people to help. 

While I’m on the subject of asking for volunteers, our church is underrepresented on the executive committee of Churches Together. This is the group that plans and reviews our services and other activities, so if anyone would like to get involved in how Churches Together evolves and develops over the next stage in its life, particularly perhaps, how we can engage with younger church members, then please to get in touch with me for a ‘no obligation’ chat. 

The subject of inter-church cooperation gives me an opportunity to draw everyone’s attention to the Revd Ken Anderson’s article towards the end of this edition of The Messenger. Ken is offering a series of Bible Study and Ethics sessions at Eynesbury Church on Tuesday evenings beginning on Tuesday 10 October, and is keen that it should be open to members of both our churches – a real sign that the culture of working together that we have built up over the past five years while Revd  Debbie was rector, should continue and develop. The programme is set out in Fr Ken’s article and I commend it to you. Do go along if you can. Ken also mentions a monthly Healing Service, held on the second Wednesday of each month in the evening – another invitation to join in.

I’ve called this piece ‘Being the whole church of God’, but perhaps it might be better to say ‘Becoming the whole church of God.’ There is still work to do, and we can all do a little bit of it. Above all, please pray for the unity of the Church of God so that, in the words of the Swanwick Declaration we can ‘…reach out for what lies ahead [as] we press on towards the full reconciliation in Christ of all things in heaven and on earth, that God has promised us in his kingdom.’

 

 


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