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This article was published in the January 2002 issue of The Journal.

Together in the power of the Spirit

Dr Eileen Scully (Anglican), until recently Associate Secretary for Faith and Order of the Canadian Council of Churches, addressed the conference on the theme of Baptism and Marriage. We give here a section from her address.

Baptism into the whole Body of Christ is baptism into a Body that is wounded. Some of the tissue has been severed in ways that seem irreparable. But it is a Body nonetheless. Interchurch families know and feel these realities deeply. You live the paradoxical, painful, conjunction of the realities of the brokenness of the Body of Christ, and your knowledge that wounds can be healed, reconciliation is possible, Christian unity can be lived out with integrity.

Baptismal membership is unlike any other kind of membership. Christian unity is unlike any other kind of ‘unity’, say of corporations, clubs, or nations. The Church embraces all manner of people who would not naturally find themselves together. Jesus’ prayer that his disciples be one was for unity so that the world – the whole world – may believe, and so be caught up in the unity of God’s Love through the Spirit. Christian unity – being together in and through the power of the Spirit, is a movement – and energy – that faces the brokenness – that’s the baptismal gift and call: reconciliation for the sake of the world.

Lately. I’ve been trying to explain ‘Full Communion’ (in the context of Anglican-Lutheran relations in Canada). It’s not a merger, like that of corporations or for pragmatic self-preserving institutional reasons – but a sharing of life together, in response to God’s gift of unity, for the sake of the world. I’ve been thinking of ‘Empire’ (whether of states or corporations), where the powerful unite with increasing strength in order to dominate, conquer and subjugate weakness (or perceived weakness) and any form of difference that gets in the way of the increase in power of the already-powerful. The unity of the Spirit is unity in a very different kind of power – one that seeks not to dominate, but to serve; one that is not concerned with institutional, cultural or personal survival (or even religious survival!), but is ready to lay down its life for friendship. We know only too well the tendencies of churches – because they are us, and we too are shaped by these cultural forces – to get caught up in patterns of relationship that look more like Empire than Reign of God. Particularly when we’re under the stress of a secular world, and threatened with the worst of contemporary threats – irrelevance. We might be tempted as individuals and as churches to try to present a unified front against those forces that seem to threaten us. We might be tempted to ignore voices that remind us of our own fragility, remind us that we haven’t got it all completely together.

But the fact of the ecumenical movement is that when we, as Christians from different traditions, walk together – and more, live together in covenant love and raise families together – we enter into a radically different experience of unity in the power of the Spirit. Sin has its roots in the desire to ‘lord over’, and shows itself in the use of power over others that subjugates, dominates, excludes, denies the personhood of another. ‘Lording over’ has many names: patriarchy, colonialism, abuse, racism. But something new is being born in our midst as these many – and other – faces of ‘lording over’ (kyriarchy) are named, turned over and transformed.

I see one of these new things in the celebration of Full Communion between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. This is not a merger, but a much deeper exchange of recognition of friends in Christ by friends in Christ – recognizing each other fully as church, with distinct gifts to offer and to be received by each other. Friendship exists and grows in the free-flowing of gifts of our deepest selves to each other, and it eschews the tendency of one to use power to dominate, assimilate or control the other. Rather, this is a growing under, through and in, the power of the Spirit.

I also see new things being born in the shifting patterns in marital relationships, in relationships between women and men. The emergence of married relationships where the passion, love, and shared life together, are grown from the soil of friendship that seeks the integrity of each person as the foundation of the integrity of the relationship. It’s something that interchurch families show me: in your faith lives, you are living in this power, not where one dominates the other, but where each beholds with deep joy and wonder, as gift, the integrity of the other’s faith life and faith tradition. This is, indeed, love in the power of the Spirit, and a new thing being done in our midst. I read a display in the hallway: ‘Many enter into "mixed" marriages believing that one tradition must dominate the other. We are living witnesses that this need not be the case.’ You are indeed witnesses of something new being done.

Unity in the power of the Spirit carries within itself an energy to reach beyond itself – whether we’re talking about interchurch families or Anglicans and Lutherans in Full Communion – that grace-filled energy to reach out into the world with the ripple-effect that real hope for transformation can have. How powerful can be the witness to this world of friends of Christ who have become friends in Christ!