When we talk about faith and calling, we often do so from the perspective of the individual and we talk about ‘my’ faith and ‘my’ calling. However, ‘my’ faith and calling only makes sense within the context of the (one, holy, catholic and apostolic) church’s faith and calling of which the Uniting Church is a particular expression.
I have, from time to time, expressed the view that if the Uniting Church didn’t exist, God would have to invent it? Why do I say that?
Like many ministers and members of the Uniting Church, my faith and discipleship were formed in another denomination and I’m forever thankful for the spiritual foundation and ecclesial discipline that guided my formation and for the wise mentors who supported and challenged me along the way.
However, we eventually came to a (very painful) parting of the ways over the question of who could be ‘called’ (men) and who could not (women). In that environment, there was always a very strong sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’ with ‘us’ being the ones who had been saved and blessed, while ‘they’ were everybody else.
The task of the church – put crudely – was to convert ‘them’ into ‘us’ within certain limitations. While ‘they’ might flirt with Christianity, ‘we’ were always the true believers, ‘we’ were specially blessed and could afford to feel a bit superior to everyone else. These days I think of it as ‘I’m on board, pull up the gangplank’ theology and it appears to be alive and well in many places.
The Uniting Church, on the other hand, seems to me to have a ‘shoulder to the wheel’ theology in which disciples are called and gathered into the Jesus story and then sent — individually and collectively — to work for the common good and to make a difference in the world.
The fundamental task of the church (Unitng Church-style) is to participate in the reconciling work of Christ and to be a ‘fellowship of reconciliation’.
In an increasingly polarized and polarizing world, this is the call to create community across difference, and it has been reflected in many of the decisions and commitments made by the Uniting Church over the last forty or so years:
- union across traditions with particular and cherished theologies and practices;
- the mutual ministry of women and men;
- the covenant with the indigenous people of Australia;
- the commitment to being a multicultural church;
- among other things.
This commitment to unity in diversity will, humans being humans, always be a work in progress, always require courage and commitment — faith — as we respond to God’s call to reach beyond our differences and learn to be human in God’s image. Let’s not pretend that this is in any way an easy or a comfortable thing to do. It obviously isn’t because we hear every day the escalation of polarizing rhetoric and we see every day the consequences of fractured relationships which erupt in violence of one sort or another. In this environment, the call to create community across difference takes on a particular urgency. It’s no small responsibility – the church exists:
- to live the Jesus story of what it means to be human together;
- to act on behalf of those whose humanity is somehow called into question and who fall through the cracks;
- to speak out on behalf of those whose voices aren’t heard;
- to work together for the common good of creation and humanity; and,
- in short, to change the world.
This requires all disciples, and all faithful communities to put their shoulders to the wheel and it is important work. I strongly resonate with a comment recently made by Pope Francis who said, ‘I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.’
In the end there’s nothing secure or comfortable about call, and faith requires courage and imagination to follow Jesus in challenging times.
Rev. Jane Fry