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Christian Unity

In the last two weeks, I have attended to different Episcopal (judicatory) ecumenical events. Texas Conference of Churches held a retreat at Concordia University in Austin. This past Monday and Tuesday, I was in Atlanta for a quadrennial meeting of Pan Methodist bishops (African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, African Union Methodist Protestant Church, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Union American Methodist Episcopal Church and United Methodist Church). I see value in meeting with leaders across the denominational spectrum. Relationship building leads to shared ministry. We have much in common – beginning with a shared post-Christendom culture. What has left me puzzled is our reluctance to talk about Christian unity. Even seemingly tame references to unity evoke hasty qualifications that people want to speak of unity in ministry not in ecclesiastical union. I wonder why. Jesus said in John 17:20-21, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” I believe God intends us to be as a larger Christian movement. Methodists came into being to reform the church. When that is accomplished, we should go out of existence (Mission accomplished!). When we worshipped and visited together, I learned again what I already knew. In the Pan Methodist context, the other Pan Methodists denominations came into being because of the white Methodist racism. We still have much to repent of. I was blessed by the graciousness of my new found friends and colleagues. Reinhold Neibuhr once said that “nothing worth doing is accomplished in our life time.” I do not expect true unity in my life time. But we should engage in the effort. With Jesus, our prayer should continue to be “…As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).