The evening (and night) of Thursday, 20th January was very cold, indeed, temperatures falling to well below freezing – and with fog to make matters worse.  On this evening, the main event of the ‘Churches Together In Leyland’, ‘Week of Prayer for Christian Unity’ was to be held here in St. Mary’s. The ‘One Voice Choir’ – an ecumenical choir made up of Christians from the main denominations – was to be present and they always give a great ‘boost’ to every celebration. Those who attended were resolute members of the different congregations, braving the cold, as even the Church was not warm enough; our enormous building, in certain damp conditions, can take heat ‘poured’ into it all day long, and still feel cold. 

In complete contrast, was the ‘warmth’ of the liturgy that had been prepared by members of different Christian groups in Jerusalem, and which took on a ‘Spirit’ of its own, with the support of all who were present.  Its theme was ‘All things in common’. 


All replied with conviction:  THE EARTH, SEA AND SKY ARE YOURS

Your presence is within and without us: IN THIS PLACE AND EVERY PLACE

Every atom is full of your energy: EVERY FACE CARRIES YOUR IMAGE. 

The singing was robust, and joyful, with the Choir leading the congregation; then, after listening to God’s Word, and viewing slides depicting the many activities of the ‘Churches Together in Leyland’, we came to the sermon.


The Holy Spirit hovers! 

By the gift of God, the Methodist Minister and myself, a Catholic priest, had got together to plan this ‘important’ part. Planning had not been easy because both of us are busy people, but ‘fortune favours those who try’ and fortuitously we met on the previous Tuesday, at the United Reformed Church, noontime Unity Service!  Seated afterwards, with a delicious bowl of home made soup, we came up with the idea that, briefly, we would talk about the ‘blessing’ that the other’s Church was – for each of us. 

However, overnight, a doubt was to appear in our plan. What about the Anglican, URC, and House Churches* present?  We could not leave them out – but, how could we include them? Somehow, from our joy and love with each other, we came up with the idea that the congregation could give the sermon, each to one another, by each person, turning to their neighbour, and sharing the ‘blessing’ another Church was for them. 

Outside it was freezing cold, but inside it was a great and real pleasure to experience the warmth – and strength – of our unity, as Christians, to hear the joyful murmur of conversation, for a few moments around the Church, as people took up this exercise – showing that ‘Each Church Is A Blessing For The Other’. Without referring to the Catholic Church – as others should speak about that – I can say that, for me, the Methodist Church is a blessing by its mark of ‘seeking holiness’, and in its devotions. The Anglican Church, for me, is a blessing for somehow managing to retain the elusive, but central quality, of ‘Englishness’ – expressed in its ceremonies and its choral music. The United Reformed Church is, for me, a blessing in the evident presence of Jesus among the people, in their love and concern for others; and the House Churches* (or equivalent) often have the mark of freshness and zeal, that you feel in the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ in the first ‘Church of Jerusalem’. In passing, the Methodist minister included in the ‘Blessing of the Catholic Church’, for him, had been the visit of Pope Benedict, to Britain in September 2010. It touched me, deeply, that a Protestant should express himself in that way. 

Many people commented on the beauty of the service: it had been prepared, so carefully, by our brothers and sisters in Jerusalem; with Jesus present among us, and with his Holy Spirit, we added to the love, so evident in the prepared text in front of us.


 Many but united!

All this makes me think above, and beyond, the Ecumenical Service. There is a song, I know, that has as a refrain, “You’re a gift for me, and you are a gift for me”. This refers, not to other Churches, but to other individual people and, it is true. The other is a ‘gift for me’, because the other, in all his, or her, otherness, has something I do not have. I do not need to force the other into my own mould, nor does he, or she, have to force me into theirs. We can be complementary, united and different, like the three Persons in the Holy Trinity, about which, one true thing we can say is that God the Father is not God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is neither God the Father nor God the Son, and yet they are – All ThreeOne God

What a wonderful difference it would make, to know that our attitude to the other, is that they are not a threat, not a problem, not a person to be absorbed into me, or to be rejected, but a ‘gift’ in their ‘otherness’. This is true, even if the other person is utterly different, by temperament and culture, and it provides a path to liberation, to think like that. 

We could begin to take on a different attitude of mind – if the cap fits!


If the cap fits! 

(* House Churches are more informal Churches; they exist all over England. People come together in an informal way, and praise God, read the scriptures, often celebrate a ‘breaking of bread’. They may or may not have a minister (as I understand it). They could meet in peoples’ houses; often they meet in local community halls or schools.)