Monday 3 October 2022 Jubilee 3 The URC – An Ecumenical Pioneer
Ephesians 4: 1-6
I entreat you, then I, a prisoner for the Lord’s sake: as God has called you, live up to your calling. Be humble always and gentle, and patient too. Be forbearing with one another and charitable. Spare no effort to make fast with bonds of peace the unity which the Spirit gives. There is one body and one Spirit, as there is also on hope held our in God’s call to you; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But each of us has been given his gift, his due portion of Christ’s bounty.
(New English Bible)
These were the opening words of the New Testament lesson of the Thanksgiving Service for the inauguration of the United Reformed Church in Westminster Abbey on 5 October 1972. They are taken from the New English Bible’s translation, which was still the most recent translation at that time. Thus there is no inclusive language, as there might be today.
I want to concentrate on the first and last verses above. The United Reformed Church has a calling to be an ecumenical pioneer. So far as it can, it has been. But this is not only a calling for the Church together; each one of us has a gift which we need to fulfil. This is where more self-examination is required. What do we think that the gift for the Church’s unity is that each of us has?
It might be writing minutes, or careful accounts of meetings; it might be playing the organ, or piano, or guitar or drums at some joint act of worship with neighbouring churches. It might simply be making coffee after a prayer group meeting. We need to say what we think our gift might be, rather than leaving someone else to guess or suggest it – the very act of suggesting it may lead others to think of doing something they had not previously thought of. It also shows that we are willing to offer our gift.
Nor is it easy. In the heated debate of General Assembly or Church Meeting, it is very easy to forget to ‘be forbearing with one another and charitable’. Here the Moderator, or minister, or Moderator’s Chaplain has a valuable part to play, watching out for the right moment to ask everyone to be quiet and to pray for ‘the bonds of peace’
We conclude with a prayer of confession and repentance from the same service.
O God eternal, with whom alone there is healing for our divisions; we confess and repent of all in our past disunity which sprang from pride and not from love of truth; all uncharitable thoughts, words and deeds which have hindered thy healing work; all individual failings and sins which have added to confusion and broken the peace of thy Church. Have mercy upon us, we pray thee; cover all our sins by thy forgiveness, and renew our life in thy love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Revd Professor David Thompson is a non-stipendiary minister in Cambridge. He was President of the Churches of Christ Annual Conference in 1979-80, a Churches of Christ observer on the original Presbyterian-Congregational Joint Committee in 1963-72, Moderator of the General Assembly, 1996-97 and first Chair of the Law and Polity Advisory Group from 2007 to 2013.