I was lucky enough to visit the Greenbelt festival this weekend with a number of other members of the church. It was my first festival experience (and only second Christian holiday, the other was whilst I was still at school) and I was a little bit wary. I think I expected factional infighting, guilt-inducing discussions and sermons and lots of socks and sandals! I was looking forward to it, but with some nerves.
So it was a relief to arrive on Friday night and realise that I didn’t stand out like a complete freak, the talks and worship planned looked fantastic and there were loads of craft stalls to look at longingly! From Sixpence None the Richer on Friday to Athlete on Monday via talks by Bishop Gene Robinson, Sami Awad and worship from Tim Hughes to Taizé it was a complete whirlwind of a weekend. But the most important lesson I learned from the weekend didn’t come from a single talk, worship set or performance. Instead, it was an unspoken theme of the time I spent at Cheltenham.
Fractures in the church come from all sorts of places, and are nothing new. From the early councils (Nicea in 325 was convened to combat the heresy of Arianism) to the creation of Gafcon (the Global Anglican Future Conference / Federation of Confessing Anglicans) in the wake of Gene Robinson’s consecration as the openly gay Bishop of New Hampshire. These factions and splits cause nothing but pain and heartache. Even when the grievances are genuine and deeply felt, both sides are hurt. Following Christ authentically means that we have to make sacrifices, but when doing this is causing pain to others as well as forcing us into sacrifices, is it authentic? It is Christ-like to build your own opinions and theology up to such an extent that others are destroyed?
By contrast, when we work together in faith amazing things happen. Conflict is part of life, and it is human nature to want life to be fair. We see what others have, how they are treated, and we want that. But life isn’t fair, and being Christian or spending time with Christians doesn’t change that. Church isn’t perfect, because we aren’t perfect. But we can learn to do the right thing. We need each other, we need to be in unity with other. It is important that we safeguard our own needs by asking for help when we need it and taking the support we are offered, and it is equally important that we offer help and support to other people in pain and not to turn your back on people or communities that need you. You don’t get back what you put in; life isn’t like that. You do get back what you need, by the grace of God and in the love of your community.
The peace and grace of Christ be with us all.
|Cheltenham Race Course in the fog, GB09|