We find a better path to unity by paying more attention to the common Spirit, and defining unity in terms of mutual acceptance and
I have played my part in this process.
There was a time in my life when I was chairman of Penge Council of Churches (I’m not going to explain to the Americans why the British contingent
suddenly burst out laughing).
I was the Council’s first lay chairman, and their last chairman; I was elected in the first place only because none of the ministers wanted the
I was the obvious candidate, in fact, because I had accepted the post of vice-chairman in a similar crisis the previous year.
During my first year in office, I visited one of the services of each of the member bodies.
When ministerial obstruction prevented the arrangement of the annual “pulpit exchange”, I had a “congregation exchange” placed on the calendar
instead, so that individual members of congregations might do the same thing.
I had an interview with each of the member ministers, trying to discuss the way forward.
Part of the problem, it seems, was that some of the ministers did not fully trust some of the others.
They were also suspicious of the national Council of churches, and reluctant to take part in the forthcoming transition to “Churches Together”.
I tried to get round this objection by floating the idea of detaching ourselves from affiliation altogether and standing alone as a local autonomous
Admittedly, all this diplomacy was in vain, at least in the short term.
Twelve months after my election, at the next General Meeting, a bunch of ministers came and offered a motion to abolish the Council on the spot.
Fortunately my own minister was one of them, and his boastful streak had given me advance warning of what was happening.
When I held them off by pointing out that abolishing the Council was undeniably a constitutional amendment, and a constitutional amendment would need
six months’ notice, their frustration and annoyance was almost palpable.
They did get their way in the end, ten months and two meetings later.
Yet in the long-term, I now discover from the internet, local ministers seem to have been successful in reviving a “Churches Together in Penge”,
with a membership of five churches.
(There is also a sixth church which claims still to belong to “Penge Council of churches”. I don’t quite understand what is going on there)
The apparent moral is that the path of “mutual acceptance and co-operation” requires patience and persistence.