“May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.” John 17:21 (New Jerusalem Bible)
On my way to church one Sunday morning, I decided to count how many churches there were between my house and the Methodist church I attend with my family.
I counted more than 10 Christian places of worship; big Catholic temples, a small Russian Orthodox Church, an old Evangelical Church, a new Pentecostal denomination that I hadn’t heard about before, a Japanese Anglican chapel and one block away from my parish, a congregational church with its members dressed in their best suits.
There are many different traditions, music and liturgies in those churches, but I am sure of one thing: we all have in our Bibles the passage that says “May they all be one… in us”.
In October 2013 I had the opportunity to serve as a steward at the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC). The WCC is the largest Christian ecumenical body, gathering 349 member churches from more than 140 countries, from different traditions.
Under the theme of “God of life, lead us to justice and peace”, Christians from all over the world went in a pilgrimage to Busan, Republic of Korea, for this moment of worship, celebration and challenge. In the ecumenical movement we learn that what unites us is stronger than what separates us and it is Christ Himself, through the water of the holy baptism, that binds us all together as one body under His guidance.
As a steward I spent 20 days working with more 130 young people who applied from different cultural and social backgrounds. I was able to hear the difficulties of the Christian church in Pakistan, the stories of resistance of my Syrian orthodox fellows, as well as those of my Egyptian Coptic friends. I learned songs from all the continents and prayers from different traditions.
I had the honour of serving with the worship team, preparing and doing the morning prayers, rehearsing the music, setting the altar and helping in the organisation of the worship hall. As in the experience of the Pentecost, I was amazed to take part in prayer with more than 5,000 people representing almost the whole of Christendom. I could hear the words of the gospel of John resounding in my head.
But at the same time I was asking myself a question: what kind of unity does God want for us? I had to go back to the biblical text.
God proposed to us a unity that is based on the concept of the Trinity and focused in mission. “One as us”; at the same time that Christ, the Holy Ghost and the Father are the same, they are different. They have different roles in the story of salvation. But that unity points to the mission, to the Kingdom of God: “so that the world may believe”. Unity, in the diversity of our gifts, can serve the people of all denominations.
In one of our confessional meetings where the Wesleyan-Methodist church family was gathered for a meeting under the guidance of the World Methodist Council, I looked around and realised that there is a great diversity even within our Wesleyan-Methodist brothers and sisters. Then I realised, we are not called to be all the same, but we are called to realise God’s mission according to our cultures, contexts, gifts and the needs of the people around us.
Sometimes, we find ourselves in the midst of disputes and aggressive discussion with others because of different traditions, different understanding of the Scriptures or different expressions of faith and spirituality. But God challenges us to “be one” and engage in conversation with those that seem different than us. During these times we must ask ourselves: How can we work together in an ecumenical mission towards the Kingdom?
Now when I go to my church on Sundays, I look at all these churches and ask myself: How can we engage together, who can we serve together in the community around us? I bring with me the stories and the witness of the young Christians I met in Busan. And I challenge you: Allow yourself to understand God’s work in the different denominations, even within our Wesleyan-Methodist family. Let us pray together, work together. God of Life, lead us to justice and peace.
John Wesley, 1749 – Letter to a Roman Catholic:
“Let us, thirdly, resolve to harbour no unkind thought, no unfriendly temper towards each other. Let us lay the axe to the root of the tree; let us examine all that rises in our heart, and suffer no disposition there, which is contrary to tender affection. Then shall we easily refrain from unkind actions and words, when the very root of bitterness is cut up.”
This article was first published on the World Methodist Council website and is reprinted with permission.
For more information about the WCC, visit www.oikoumene. org/en
For more information about the stewards program and how to apply, see www.oikoumene.org/en/what-we-do/youth/stewards
Picture courtesy of World Methodist Council
Alexandre Pupo Quintino is a member of the Methodist Church in Brazil. The 31-year-old served as a steward during the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches, held Oct 30 to Nov 8 last year.