Over the years, I have heard horror stories concerning various ministerial associations. In many cases, one group of similarly-minded clergy (the evangelicals, the catholics, or the liberals) try to take over the group, and others are left feeling marginalized. Sometimes it seems that the tragic history of a fragmented world-wide Church is lived out on the local scale. I am happy to say, though, that I have been blessed to have been part of two excellent ministerial associations in my ministry, both here in Bradford and during my time in Thornhill. In both places there is deep conviction that we are serving the same Lord and that there is much that we can do together, in spite of the difference of opinion that we might have with respect to minor (and some major!) ways in which we understand the gospel.
I think that one of the key factors in this is a level of trust. I may not always agree with my fellow clerics on how they interpret various aspects of the gospel, but I trust and believe that they are acting faithfully out of their conviction that Jesus is Lord and that God is working in Christ to bring about the redemption of the world. And I would venture to say that while some of them surely scratch their heads at my Anglian idiosyncrasies, I do think that they trust that I am working from the same starting place as they are, Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.
Fear and lack of trust come from lack of understanding. As I write this there is once again growing turmoil between the Middle East and the West. People are dying because we fail to understand the cultural narratives in which “the other” lives. Those who are rising up against the West cannot understand why we would not just lock up the man who made a film insulting the Prophet and throw away the key. We in the West have trouble fathoming the extraordinary and violent response to such a marginal, poorly-made film that nobody is actually viewing. We fail to understand because our cultural, political, and religious differences run so deep that it may be next to impossible to find common ground. I pray that this is not so, but it is a difficult and complicated task that requires time, cooperation, and intentionality – all of which seem to be in very short supply on the world stage, of late.
This is why I think we have cause to give thanks here in Bradford for the fact that those of us who are Christians can claim a common ground in Christ. Even with the huge issues that divide us (the ordination of women, blessing of same-gender unions, varied understandings of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist), we can come together, pray together, work together, serve together and minister together. I count my ministerial colleagues as amongst my dearest friends. I am encouraged by them and inspired by their faith. I don’t always agree with every aspect of how their faith is articulated or in every aspect of how they live it out, but we share something much more important, and that is the Good News of the Gospel and the faith of Jesus Christ. What binds us is stronger than what separates us, and to this end, even though we sometimes find ourselves at odds and find that we cannot walk together on certain issues, we strive for the greatest degree of unity possible and demonstrate love and charity when we are at odds. I think that this is something we can offer to a broken and hurting world. I believe that this is a gift that the Church can bring to society. In small and large communities across this country and around the world, churches can demonstrate in their communities what it means to share a common faith, live a common life, and journey together in love and charity in the midst of difference. After all, our Lord is the lord of reconciliation and restoration. As this Thanksgiving feast approaches this is what I choose to give thanks for this year.
C. 2012, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves