At the noon SLT service on Sunday I used some of the materials from the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, created by an ecumenical group of Christians in Poland. The Week of Prayer takes place in January in the Northern Hemisphere but in the Southern Hemisphere it is this week. This is appropriate as the reading from the Gospel of John contains the prayer of Jesus ‘that they may be one’. Whenever we read that, it challenges to look at the divided state of the Church and consider what we can do to become part of the answer to Jesus’ prayer. I reflected on what we as Anglicans in Second Life are doing to enhance the unity between Christians.
The readings were Psalm 1, Acts 1:15-17, 21-end, John 17:6-19. My reflection follows:
As some of you may know, I’ve been studying for a degree in theology. I’m halfway there and taking a break until September when the next section of the work begins. The last assignment I recently handed in was about Anglicans and ecumenism. As I discovered, the Anglican Church is involved in many conversations – locally, nationally and internationally – between two or more denominations. Anglicans are founder members of the World Council of Churches and every province of the Anglican Communion is represented there. It is the World Council of Churches which promotes the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This is usually part of church life in the Northern Hemisphere in January but in the Southern Hemisphere it is often around this time of year.
I thought it was appropriate to remember Christian Unity today as part of the recognition that Anglicans of SL is a worldwide church with members from both hemispheres. Also, the reading from John’s Gospel is so pertinent to the topic of unity. This is part of Jesus’ high priestly prayer, prayed just before his death. It was Jesus’ chance to pray for his disciples before they faced the trauma of apparently losing him and to leave a final message with them. Jesus didn’t just pray for his disciples at that time but for all who would follow him in the future, including us.
Jesus prayed that God would protect the disciples. The purpose of that protection was ‘that they may be one as we are one’. While Jesus was on earth living with his disciples, he was able to protect them and hold them together. Even then we hear of disagreements between them and of James and John wishing to have special treatment. How much more was there likely to be trouble between believers when Jesus was not there to teach a parable or to draw a child to him as an example of the Christian life!
Jesus also asked that his disciples should be sanctified, which means to be purified or made holy, set apart. Jesus wants us to be transformed so that we are more like God. God the Trinity, whom we worship, models a unity which is demonstrated in diversity and that’s what Jesus wants for us. Transformation is not necessarily easy or painless or quick. We know that from a physical point of view; if you want to get fitter, to transform yourself from couch potato to athlete, it’s painful and takes time and effort. If we are to overcome our tendency to disagree and walk our separate ways as Christians, that too is going to be painful.
Whenever we read this prayer of Jesus, it should challenge us to work to overcome the current situation in the Church. Here on Epiphany Island, within the group of Anglicans of SL, we are facing the challenge of Jesus’ prayer for us, however imperfectly.
I wonder if you’ve looked at our blog recently and read The Teams page there. When you read the brief biographies you can see the diversity represented there. The Leadership Team comes from the USA, England and Australia. We are Anglican and Methodist. We probably cover the full spectrum of traditions of Anglicanism – catholic, evangelical, liberal, charismatic. When we have discussions about matters concerning our ministry, we most certainly don’t always agree. Sometimes we disagree very much indeed. However, we want to be involved in this ministry more than we want our own views to prevail and so we get over our disagreements. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree; sometimes we modify our views in the light of what others have said. I can certainly say that in the process of this I have been transformed and continue to be transformed. Others on the Leadership Team would need to speak for themselves of course but I suspect it’s true of them also.
Our team of worship leaders is growing in number and diversity. The team is drawn from Canada, USA, England, Germany and Australia. Our faith backgrounds are Anglican, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Baptist, non-denominational and Jewish. We all work together to support our community in praising and worshipping God on this sim. Here is an example of unity in diversity.
If you look at the community at large, you will find even greater diversity. We meet from all over the world, every continent except Antarctica I think. Our members represent many denominations and yet we can meet together here to worship, to focus on what we have in common and to converse with one another as brothers and sisters in the one family. Not everyone who comes here is used to an Anglican style of worship; some might not choose it as their favourite style, but each is prepared to enjoy what they can in the experience. Personally, I am humbled particularly by the effort made by those who come and worship in English when it’s not their native language.
As a result of this interaction between such a diverse group the church here is changing as are the members of it. Change can be threatening as well as exciting. If we are to really move towards becoming one as Jesus prayed, we are going to suffer some discomfort. It’s not enough to just be polite and friendly. True unity is more than that. We will have to give up some cherished ideas or ways of doing things. We will have to let go of resentments and suspicions towards others. We will have to accept that our particular ‘brand’ of Christianity is not necessarily the one right version. We can each learn from the gifts and traditions of others; we can be enriched by one another if we allow it to happen.
The cost of transformation is surely worth paying. As we open ourselves to the work and guidance of the Holy Spirit we will become more Christlike in all we do and in all that we are. That is the process of sanctification. In his prayer, Jesus links sanctification with being sent out. As we go out with the Good News we ourselves need to be good news. Division is most certainly not good news! Unity is.
One of the conclusions of my study of ecumenism was that much of the growing together of Christians will come from the grassroots. However important talks between church leaders at various levels are, it is individuals talking, praying and worshipping together who will bring about greater unity worldwide among Christians.
I am really glad to be part of this group of diverse Christians here in SL and to witness the love shown to one another. I hope that one day the many churches here in SL will work together. Meanwhile, thank you all for what you each bring as a contribution to our community. I am continually enriched by being part of this ministry. I hope you are too.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor