Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Day 2: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity / St. Wulfstan of Worcester (c. 1008-1095)

God, from whom all life flows in its rich diversity, you call your Church as the Body of Christ to be united in love. May we learn more deeply our unity in diversity and strive to work together to preach, and build up the Kingdom of your abundant love in all places. May we always be mindful of Christ as the source of our life together. We pray in the unity of the Spirit. Amen.

An ecumenical tale by an Episcopal priest regarding a local dilemma with a Lutheran pastor:
"We were to have a service in the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, and the Lutheran pastor was to take part in my church. He called to ask what he should wear, and I told him, 'Wear what you would wear for such an occasion in your own church.' 'Well,' he said, 'I'd wear a surplice and stole. What color stole would be appropriate?' 'This is Epiphany season,' I said, 'so we would wear green.' 'But for Epiphany season,' he said, 'we would wear white.' 'That's all right,' I said, 'it's also St. Paul's Day so I could wear white.' 'But if it's St. Paul's Day,' he said, 'we would wear red.' 

So we realized that if we wanted to do the same thing -- wear white stoles -- it would represent different purposes (St. Paul and Epiphany), but if we wanted to celebrate the same thing (St. Paul, for example), we would wear different colors. Thus, if we said the same thing, we would wear different things, but if we wore the same thing we would have to say different things. 

And that is a cautionary tale to bear in mind in all ecumenical conversation!"

We need to be reminded that Christian unity doesn't mean uniformity. The Church of Jerusalem was rich in diversity, and our Church today is globally becoming more richly diverse and inclusive by God's graceful prompting. "For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free -- and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." The Collect above sets the tone for our reflection on this day. St. Wulfstan, whom we also commemorate, was a fine example of a bishop who included all equally among his diverse flock, particularly through his great preaching ability. This was at a time when that was sometimes a delicate matter. He became bishop right on the cusp of the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror in 1066. Even though Wulfstan couldn't speak French, he nevertheless was allowed to remain as bishop of Worcester. He dealt graciously with William and the new regime in England, eventually becoming an entrusted colleague of William's and of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Lanfranc. By the time William died in 1087, Wulfstan was the only remaining native British prelate.

John Wesley, Anglican priest and Methodist pastor, once said: "The pretences for separation are innumerable, but want of love is always the cause." That is because love unifies, even in the midst of great diversity. Throughout history the truly outstanding servants of God: the Pauls, the John Wesleys, the Mother Teresas, who have been called and sent by God, have always understood that the foundation of true Christian unity is love in action, love of God and love of one's neighbor, no matter how different.

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