Tuesday, 29 June 2010

What would you lay down? Archbishop's challenge

Knowing what we were prepared to lay down for the sake of the Gospel was the challenge to Conference today from Archbishop Rowan Williams.

He explored issues of compromise and confrontation in the lives of the apostles Peter and Paul at the end of an afternoon where a number of potential tensions in our church life had been explored.

His bedrock question was not about what issue we would go to the stake for but “what’s the life that you’re prepared to lay down?”

In talking about the Church’s way of being, working and mission - specifically Fresh Expressions and ecumenism - Archbishop Rowan made it clear he was offering no solutions. “And anyway, you wouldn’t listen any more than my church does,” he joked.

He described the difference between Peter and Paul succinctly: “Peter knows who Jesus is and Paul knows what Jesus means”.

It was a mistake simply to talk about the ministry of Peter as being about order while Paul is about creative newness, he said. “Peter has the ability to create embarrassing situations, he’s not simply the apostle of good order. At times it leads him into astonishingly creative moments of innovation - and sometimes simply into mess.”

Paul, said the Archbishop, knows what Jesus means ... grace upon grace, a kingdom without boundaries; reconciliation, transformation for every human being.

The sense of urgency of who Jesus is was ultimately at the heart of the Covenant between our two churches, he said.

In ecumenical conversations we began with a Petrine approach, saying “‘for heaven’s sake this is ridiculous we’ve got to do something. We can’t leave it to the experts to sort this out because we know who Jesus is’.” The ecumenical movement started with people prepared to move out and live with unfinished business.

“We may find a few years on that nothing very much is happening and the spectre of Paul rises up to say ‘I did warn you’ and you can’t just sit there in this glorious mess because it then becomes unsatisfying.”

Neither confrontation or compromise would work unless you had a vision of the communion you longed for, said the archbishop.

“It means going back again and again and again to where it all started and thinking Jesus: who he is and what it means. Only that gets us to something of a church life that’s not a whole series of posture strikings or desperate personnel management.”

When it came to mission, and particularly Fresh Expressions, Archbishop Rowan said the tension in mission history was similar to that which Peter and Paul recognised.

“The history of the church’s mission is a history of many effort to reach to and speak with those who won’t instinctively understand the language you’re speaking,” he said.

“Some have been right and some corrupting and wrong and for some it’s too soon to say. There’s no alternative but to keep going back together to the Gospel.”

But he warned us: “It’s most unlikely we won’t find a policy for which we won’t have to repent at some point. Get used to it - it’s Christian!”

And he added: "However hard we try to persuade ourselves there’s a solution without cost we need to learn, as a great moral theologian said, that the great moral question is ‘who’s going to get hurt?’.

“The true apostolic quest is how do I share the cost? How do I put myself at risk alongside those I want to speak for or pray for?” he said.

“What united Peter and Paul - other than salvation in Christ - was martyrdom. Not Peter as the source of authority but giving his life for the Gospel.

“Whether our lives have a Peter or Paul flavour should lead us back to the cross. Where and how do we share the risk. How do we avoid words without price; gestures without suffering at every level? What’s the life that I’m prepared to lay down?”

And so, in the spirit of a day when we’ve looked at working with the church overseas and our ecumenical partners, here’s a hymn:

There is a world beyond our world
a dream beyond our sight:
a common call to unity
in service of the light.
Engaging faith - God’s living church.
Transforming love - God’s true delight.

Our mission in the Way of Christ
cannot be done alone.
A partnership of active prayer
brings heaven’s blessings down.
Engaging faith - God’s living church.
Transforming love - God’s shining crown.

In Jesus we are called to go
and in his cause expire:
to be a Gospel family
who set this world on fire.
Engaging faith - God’s living church.
Transforming love - God’s great desire.

Gareth Hill Copyright © 2010 GraceNotes Music

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