Today on my second day as the new Transitional Presbyter in Albany Presbytery I was invited to offer a homily at a prayer service at the Capital Regional Ecumenical Organization‘s (CREO) worship service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. A great opportunity to meet some of my new colleagues in ministry and I was grateful for the invitation!
I Corinthians 1:1-17 and Mark 9:33-41
Let me begin by saying thank you.
Thank you for inviting me to offer a few words today, even though I am brand new and this is our first time meeting. I am very glad to be here today with my new ecumenical colleagues and to be starting during this Week of Prayer of Christian Unity. Ecumenical connections have been a huge part of my ministry up until now and I hope and pray that these sorts of connections, here in this new place will be ones that will sustain and guide much of our common and shared ministry together here in the Capital Region.
Since I am new, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about myself with an eye to our ecumenical theme for this week.
I grew up a cradle Presbyterian, my mother’s side of the family immigrating to this country from Scotland many generations ago. I grew up in Presbyterian congregations, but in an area outside of Philadelphia that was largely Jewish, and so my first non-Presbyterian relationships were with Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Jews, my friends I grew up with outside of my church friends were almost all Jewish. Their stories and family histories informed much of my growing up alongside my strong connections in the congregation I was raised in. In college our campus ministry was ecumenical with strong ties to the local Catholic congregation in town. I still have a framed quote from St. Theresa of Avila in my office today, a graduation gift I received from the Catholic chaplain. I noticed as I was unpacking this weekend into my new office that the framing is wearing out a bit…I have always had it on my desks in various places ever since graduating from college and look at it every day as I begin ministry:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours:
Yours are the eyes through with His love looks out to the world:
Yours are the feet with which He goes about doing good:
Yours are the hands with which He blesses people now.
In seminary I served for two of the three years at a United Methodist Church, my field education supervisors there married my husband and I at the end of my time with that congregation. My husband, by the way, is Roman Catholic, he is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and ever since we married he has been teaching at Catholic schools here in the United States. Juan Gabriel, while growing up Roman Catholic in Colombia, was educated K-12 by the Presbyterians, our mission work history in Colombia early on was to do education work, and so the Presbyterian Church is known in Colombia for having some of the finest schools in that country. The school he attended is not just attended by Presbyterian students, but by diverse religious families, up until today. In 2004 our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA) responded to an urgent call for human rights accompaniment from our sisters and brothers in Colombia, because of their commitment to nonviolence in a violent place. We have engaged in that work, and much of it has been with ecumenical partners. In Colombia, without the ecumenical connections, many of our churches and their leaders and communities, not just the Presbyterians, would have lost their lives. In that place of great need we have supported each other ecumenically and still do today in advocacy work here in the United States and in growing ecumenical accompaniment in Colombia.
Our daughter was baptized Presbyterian but has been attending Catholic school her whole life, the school she attends and where my husband teaches in NJ has ties to the Sisters of Mercy, known for their social justice and outreach. And finally and probably most significantly, in my last call in ministry my closest colleague and now a very wonderful friend is Father George Farrell, Pastor at the Catholic Community of St. Joseph, that was across the street from the church I served. Our two congregations engaged in many ministries together and we always celebrated this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, on the Sunday of that week we would begin with a pulpit swap and co-lead worship services together in our community, I would get more work than Father George, leading both a Spanish and an English Mass, he got one service at our church! We shared a community garden ministry to feed the hungry in our community and developed a friendship that sustains us in ministry to this day.
The question on the cover of the bulletin today, and the theme for this year’s celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is this:
Has Christ been Divided?
In our readings today, we see that this was a question Paul posed to the much-divided congregation in Corinth, marred by divisive behavior and infighting. Of course this was before there were any denominations, these divisions in the larger church you and I have inherited and live with to this day and think most especially about this week. Paul was looking at a more local question, that of a congregation—and saying to them that if they allowed these divisions to persist, then their ministry would be stilted, they would not be able to engage in the mission before them, they would cease to invite others into a relationship with Jesus Christ and they would dishonor the baptismal calling before them.
“Is Christ divided?” was Paul’s question to that congregation.
It is the same question to us today.
Is Christ divided when we set up barriers amongst each other?
Is Christ divided when we quarrel or forget our calling?
Is Christ divided when we fail to be the servant leaders Jesus tells us to be in our reading today from Mark’s Gospel?
Is Christ divided when we ignore the poor in our midst or the systemic injustice that our society is addicted to?
Is Christ divided when we are more concerned with our own survival as individual churches, rather than remembering our larger calling?
Is Christ divided when we fail to see the strength that comes from our ecumenical connections to each other, opportunities for growth and renewal?
Or is Christ divided as we lay siege to our most precious gift, life, and the beloved Creation that is our only home?
Is Christ divided? We could go on and on with these questions…
So many concerns and questions that we each hold as we come to this place today. So many places where we know we fall short of the vision of God in Jesus Christ.
And yet the other side is not the negative but the positives, the many opportunities for ministry, so many opportunities for connection. I have known these in my life not as places of division, but places of renewal, love, mission, grace and growth.
Here among us, so many places where new life is springing up.
So many gifts that the Spirit has placed in our midst.
New visions, gifts and callings.
New challenges to take ahold of and follow where the Spirit is beckoning us.
I am looking forward to sharing ministry with you here in Albany, New York. I am looking forward to our partnerships, our new relationships and our journey together as we seek to be the Church that we are invited to be.
May God richly bless you and me as we go out from this day and seek to engage in ministry together.
Is Christ divided?
The answer must be, “not on our watch.”