Thought for the Month (January 2016)
As we begin a new year and prepare for the work of calling a new minister, I wish to draw our attention to the Week of Christian Unity, traditionally observed from 18th to 25th January, here in the UK. However, some Churches around the world observe it at Pentecost or some other time.
This year, material for the 2016 Week of Christian Unity has been prepared by the Christians of Latvia and adapted by the Britain and Ireland Writers' Group, based around the verses of I Peter 2: 9-10,"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
Here Peter's first letter encourages new Christians to live holy and blameless lives and to answer the calling shared by all those baptised into the church to proclaim the wonderful deeds God has done through Jesus Christ. As Jesus's disciples, Peter calls us in effect to be light and salt to the world. These are the essential things that as human beings we cannot live without; and therefore without the Gospel, without the promise of the good news of God's love in Christ, the world is lost.
Today, Latvia is a crossroads where Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox regions meet. Because of this unique location, it is home to Christians of many different traditions, but no single one of them is dominant. Gathered together by the Archbishop of Riga, members of a variety of church communities and projects in Latvia were asked to reflect on the chosen theme, to prepare resources for use worldwide during the Week of Christian Unity; details of which can be found on-line at www.ctbi.org.uk/week-of-prayer-for-christianunity-2016 or obtained from contacting Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, 39 Eccleston Square, London, W1V 1BX; Tel. (020) 7901 4890.
Just as the United Reformed Church itself was formed historically by the union of the Presbyterian Church of England and the Congregational Church of England & Wales in 1972, and later still by union with the Churches of Christ in 1980, so increasingly today individual congregations/fellowships are often formed from unions of differing denominational loyalties. This, of course, has been played out in the history of Tunbridge Wells URC with the amalgamation of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church and Tunbridge Wells Congregational Church, and which now continues with steps towards Tunbridge Wells URC forming a local ecumenical partnership with Vale Royal Methodist Church. Here we see and experience first-hand, the practical outworking of efforts to continue to develop unity in our Christian family.
Moreover, the very location of the Tunbridge Wells URC building at the junction of Grosvenor Road, Mount Ephraim and St John's Road, indicates that people journey to the church along different roads (or traditions) to make the church what it is, namely; the living body of Christ and not simply bricks and mortar.
This is further enhanced in its partnership with our sister churches in Hawkenbury and Rusthall who also seek to work in unity with their fellow Christian brothers and sisters from other denominations in their respective villages.
Beyond our own group of churches, we see Christians coming together to provide practical help and support for vulnerable people, e.g., via their provision of the Churches for Tunbridge Wells' Winter Night Shelter in the first few weeks of each year and their involvement in the Street Pastors' initiative and West Kent Debt Advice – to give but two examples – throughout the year.
Unity in this sense is not about uniformity, but sharing a common faith among all Christians. So, dear friends, as we celebrate the start of a new calendar year and look to the calling of a new minister, may we share a common vision as we engage with – and ponder upon – the Week of Christian Unity, to be strengthened in our love for one another and our communities in the months and years ahead, so that we may indeed be Salt and Light to the world.
May God bless and keep you in His love throughout the coming year.
Rev. Andy Coyne (Interim Moderator)
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