A few years ago, I got is a bit of trouble over a joke. It seems to me that ministry sometimes consists of going to meetings and at one meeting, I asked the participants how they could know for sure if they were in heaven or hell in the afterlife. I thought the answer was simple: if you were at a meeting in the afterlife, you were obviously in hell, not heaven. I thought it was funny but others at the meeting didn’t see it the same way, but that is a story for another time.
Meetings are a fact of life in ministry. And because I serve two separate collections of churches, I end up at more meetings. As a result of these two different ministry settings, for example, I am currently part of two different ecumenical gatherings. One is an actual council of churches and the other is a gathering of clergy. Interestingly enough, they both do pretty much the same type of things. Both meet monthly and both spend time getting to know each other better and working together on a variety of things that help the church as a whole. And while I don’t much like meetings, the idea of churches and their leaders working together makes up for the necessity of attending meetings, most of the time anyway.
When I attend such meetings, I appreciate the opportunity to meet with other believers from other traditions. I sometimes get frustrated when I recognize the limitations we face as different denominations but more often, I am more often trying to deal with the differences in personality that always complicate meetings.
Our gatherings do not represent the full Christian presence in our communities. There are some Christian groups that choose not to take part and depending on the leadership at any particular time, some of the member groups may not have a very active participation. But in the end, we meet together, we talk together, we plan together, we laugh together, and we support each other in difficult times. We get to know each other’s individual and ecclesiastical differences. We learn who does what well and who doesn’t do what well. We discover who can offer which resources to the work we can do.
And in the process of meeting together, we are doing far more than we sometimes realize. As well as the planning and sharing and organizing that we do, we are also presenting our communities with a vision of the church as it is meant to be. We aren’t planning to merge all our churches and become one. But we are practising and showing an essential and basic unity of the faith that cuts across our denominational differences. We are showing our communities that we might worship in different ways in different buildings at different times but we are all actually worshipping the same God because of the same Christ in the power of the same Holy Spirit.
We are telling our communities that no matter which building we worship in and no matter which style we worship in, we are in agreement and we are all heading in the same direction and we aren’t competing with each other. And so when I have prayer with the Anglican lady who I see in the hospital during my visit with my Baptist people, she and her pastor know that I am not trying to steal anyone–and the community knows that we are all working for the same God.
And this is important because the more fragmented and fighting the church is, the weaker our witness. If we who follow Christ in our different ways cannot get along, how can the world expect much of the faith we proclaim? Our bickering and competition serve to give outsiders a reason for not considering faith–we undercut our mission and make to task of the Holy Spirit much harder when we aren’t willing to work together.
And so, I will attend the meetings–not because I love meetings. I am still convinced that one of the joys of heaven will be the absence of meetings. But I will continue to meet with fellow believers because that which we share is much deeper and much more significant than that which separates us. We are joined together by our faith now and forever.
May the peace of God be with you.