Keeping the family together

Off to Bunbury this afternoon!

Bunbury in Cheshire, that is – the home of Olympic gymnast Beth Tweddle.  Son-in-law Tim is being inducted as vicar of St Boniface along with the smaller church of St Jude, Tilstone Fearnall.

So with Andrew as vicar of St Peter, Walworth, central London, that makes vicar #3 in our family.  Between the three of us we almost cover the whole Anglican spectrum, both in type of parish

(urban/suburban/rural) and in churchmanship (low/middle/high).   We

are a walking Church of England.

Even so we all managed a wonderful family holiday in Swanage last month.

“It is the hardest thing in the world to hold the adherents of a faith together,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks observed. Remarkably the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth was addressing the 670 Anglican bishops of the Lambeth conference in 2008.

“The Anglican Communion has held together quite different strands of Christian theology and practice better than any other religion I know, certainly than any other Western religion I know.”

The Rabbi called on Anglicans to be tolerant of each other, as he had known them to be when he was a student in Anglican schools. “Covenant is predicated on difference,” he said. “Between God and humanity-that is the covenant of ultimate difference.”

Beyond the call to unity in the Anglican Communion, Rabbi Sacks said that Anglicans can help “to hold us together in a world that is drawing us apart.”

One thing Tim will soon learn as a vicar is that it is not easy holding a congregation together – in our individualistic culture there are always centrifugal forces pulling us apart.  And yet just by staying together we may demonstrate the Kingdom of God to a fractured world.

Things could not get any worse than what was happening in the church in Corinth.  You name it, they had it.  Rivalries, drunkenness, disorder, incest, slander – not to mention wrong teaching (no

resurrection, baptism for the dead).   They even got lawyers involved,

as bad as that!  No wonder the apostle Paul writes: “Your meetings do more harm than good.”  Clearly a failing church.

So how does he begin his letter?  “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people!”

And nowhere does he suggest suspending the church or – like the current Spanish banking system – dividing it into good and bad segments.  He is totally committed to keeping this church together.

It was his passion.

Two of my heroes both worked hard as vicars to maintain the unity – and  both had strong evangelical views.  John Stott (who died last

year) and his hero, Charles Simeon (1759–1836), vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, the church now sandwiched between Marks & Spencer’s Food and Ladies Departments.

The big controversy in Simeon’s day threatening to tear the Church apart was Calvinism versus Arminianism.  Both parties thought fundamentals were at stake.

His response?

“Please, please, please! Enough of all this Calvin-bashing and Arminian-bashing. Let us show respect for each other’s traditions and “church fathers”. Nobody, not even the apostles (with their various faults), . .  nor anybody else is perfect. Only Christ is perfect. Let us look only unto him. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’”

Certainly my experience of the Anglican church in Vancouver, the most secular city in north America, only confirms the view this secession is not  good.  It just damages mission – so that our young niece Sydney stopped going to St Simon’s as it left the diocese.  The hassle was too much for her.

So no wonder then does Paul sign off his Corinthian correspondence with the watchword of the church:  “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all  (i.e. all of you). 2 Corinthians 13:14

So every blessing to Tim and Beth with daughters Rose and Poppy as their ministry begins this evening.  May they know this grace, love and fellowship as they begin to serve Jesus in this ancient parish.