Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and walking in the tracks of solidarity

By Jill Segger
January 22, 2015

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (WPCU) usually passes me by. But this year (it runs from 18-25 January 2015) I have paid a little more attention. This is largely due to the present febrile atmosphere around the violence and fear which has been aroused in Europe by religious confrontation and intolerance, partly by the scale of rising inequality and a little by some anxiety as to my responsibilities as the representative of my Quaker Meeting to the local Churches Together group.

Unity is not, of course, uniformity. I doubt many really believe that complete concord on belief is possible, though there are some who apparently wish to impose it. However, there is a wisdom in Islam which says there can be no compulsion in religion and we need most to remind ourselves of that when we are shrinking before the terrors dealt by its deniers. It is also best not forgotten when dealing with inflexibilities nearer home. Diversity is part of the created order and as necessary in spirituality as in the eco-sphere. It exists within religions and denominations as well as between them and, rightly understood, can surely provide a stimulus to humility and to discovery.

“Creeds are milestones” said George Fox, “doctrines are interpretations.” As guides to the journey and challenge to intellect and imagination, these are essential tools. It is when they become idols that we are all in trouble. And make no mistake, atheism and political ideologies have their creeds and idols too.

As societies around the world increasingly fragment in violent conflict and inequality, it has never been more important that we seek for the voice to express a sense of unity and solidarity, however halting that utterance may sometimes be. If people of faith quarrel about outward forms and vocabularies, we are in real danger of missing the meaning – both of the graces of our heritage and of our mission to cross culturally created boundaries in order to help each other on the journey towards justice and peace.

“Every religion has dignity; every religion that respects life.” So said Pope Francis on his recent visit to Sri Lanka. All of us who profess a faith should keep that at the front of our minds. “Let your lives speak” is an admonition which addresses all people of good faith. It is only by witness, and not by prescription of some ideological or doctrinal purity which condemns and excludes, that we can hope to work out a collective social, political and personal future which will enable all to thrive, both around the world (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21323) and in our own streets (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21337)

“For this is the true ground of love and unity” wrote Isaac Penington in 1660, “not that such a man walks and does just as I do, but because I feel the same Spirit and life in him, and that he walks in his rank, in his own order, in his proper way and place of subjection to that; and this is far more pleasing to me than if he walked just in that track wherein I walk.”

* More on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/wpcu

* WPCU materials from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland: http://www.ctbi.org.uk/681

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© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen

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