Tuesday 4 October 2022 Jubilee 4 The Quest for Unity
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
‘Unity in Christ is not achieved by keeping quiet but by engaging in a difficult and complex costly argument; it is not achieved by pouring oil on troubled waters but by dealing with the trouble; it is not achieved by leaving Jerusalem for the quiet hills of Galilee but by riding into the city and cleansing the temple. Confrontation must be the hallmark of your life: not peace but a sword……..My second suggestion is about inclusion. As a church in your life together and as you send each other back and forth to serve the everyday world you will do your level best never to reject and exclude those you confront.’ (Revd. Dr. Michael Taylor, Charge to the United Reformed Church, 1 April 2000)
In his Charge at the Unifying Assembly between the URC UK and the Congregational Union of Scotland, Michael Taylor asked whether the image of the wolf lying down with the lamb was ‘sentimental nonsense or a stunning image of unity in Christ’. He believed unity in Christ could only be achieved through complex costly argument and inclusion. As I reflect upon my 22 years of experience of the United Reformed Church I think complex costly argument and inclusion have been hallmarks of our life.
My first General Assembly in 2000 included the proposals for an ecumenical bishop in East Cardiff. Could the URC support this pioneering ecumenical appointment – one which raised questions about our understanding of episcope, all ministries being open to women and men, and having different provisions for ministry across three nations? General Assembly did, though the decisions of other partners meant that the appointment did not progress. Other equally costly complex arguments have taken place over many years on questions of human sexuality and marriage equality.
The commitment to live as people of complex, costly argument and inclusion, seems to me to embody paragraph 8 of the Basis of Union:
‘The United Reformed Church has been formed in obedience to the call to repent of what has been amiss in the past and to be reconciled. It sees its formation and growth as a part of what God is doing to make his people one, and as a united church will take, wherever possible and with all speed, further steps towards the unity of all God’s people.’
Our calling includes the quest for unity, inside and outwith the Church, by calling out injustice and prejudice; confessing our complicity and taking positive action so that all are truly included and welcomed in the oikumene, the household of God.
Confronting and yet including God, through the leading of the Spirit prompt us to engage in the costly complex arguments of our day. Expand the boundaries of our comfort zones, remove the scales of prejudice and injustice from our eyes, give us courage to take action in the face of much greater opposition so that all may be welcomed into the community of your Church and share fully in the feast of abundant life. Amen
The Rev’d Lindsey Sanderson is Chaplain to the Moderator of General Assembly.