It was a freezing morning with loads of snow around as I ploughed my way towards Harpenden Rail Station on the way to Mill Hill. Two thoughts crossed my mind: would the trains be on time?; and is there a parable here about the so-called ecumenical winter (written so much of) and the need for the thawing out of a frozen ecumenical vocation?
Well the trains did work, though slightly off time and I was pleasantly surprised upon arriving at Trinity, Mill Hill to find a large number of people who already braved the challenging weather to share in a collective witness to their commitment to life together of the Churches in Mill Hill. The number quickly grew to over 180 people for the service. There was no ecumenical winter here: and if there was one, shoots of hope were all around!
This service was brilliantly planned and creatively crafted by Revd Ann Jack and her colleagues of Churches Together in Mill Hill. It included participation from a very wide cross-section of the membership. The last time I attended a service with such a broad and intentional involvement of the membership was in the Caribbean! And, this one was well done, greatly aided by an ecumenical choir and the presence/participation of the clergy of the Churches Together.
Among my tasks was that of introducing the theme to the children and younger ones. On this occasion I got a rather uninhibited “talking” group of children who ended up determining our conversations on church, unity and gifts. What a surprise blessing! I had intended to work the theme with my collection of colourful bundle of threads I had raided from our “sewing kit”. My intention was to demonstrate the importance of each piece of thread in a woven piece and how we need each other to create a masterpiece! In the end, I got there with the very creative and unpredicted responses from these very young and budding ecumenists. We even had two new ecumenical imageries: a toy speed boat and toy pliers, both you would agree, very appropriate for the new directions of ecumenism on these isles!
In my sermon I reflected on the theme “what does God require of us?” drawing on the readings (Micah 6:6-8; Galatians 3:26-28; John 2:1-11) to explore renewal of our ecumenical vocation. I noted that Micah’s connecting of doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly should serve as a threefold call for conversion of mind-sets and the deepening the habit of attentiveness. This threefold call, located within our life together in Christ invites all of us to journey beyond the mechanics of our ecclesial traditions and our distinctive identities, to encounter and experience love face to face. Hence, distinctions become secondary as all are mutually inconvenienced for a larger vision – the gift of abundant life. I ended my reflections by making a plea for our ecumenical vocation to rediscover that which lies at the heart of God, the gift of abundant and expansive generosity, and our need to live it out. At that wedding feast of Cana (in new and strange territory) such abundance/grace is demonstrated to overflowing. In closing I suggested the need to pay closer attention to the “table-steward” and for us to re-imagine our ecumenical calling to be that (like the table-steward) of tasting all the good things (to be given away/shared) that God has blessed us with. We would, however, need to re-learn to acquire that taste of abundance to recognise and appreciate it.
The fellowship that followed continued the conversations, filled with even more exciting stories. I was delighted to be part of this wonderful witness of our ecumenical life together. May the wine of God’s reckless extravagant love continue to flow into and out of the cracked, protected, dusty and comfortable jars of our life together, overflowing into the streets where there will be dancing and joy; and where with the wine-maker of Nazareth we may all be empowered to shout out: ‘it is good’!