Brother Angelo


On Sunday I found myself worshipping in York Minster. Bizarrely it was the second time in under a fortnight that I was served communion by an Archbishop! But that’s another story.

The most significant person I met that morning – apart from Christ in the Eucharist – was not Archbishop SENTAMU but an old man called Angelo.

In a packed congregation of hundreds I found myself sitting next to an old man who turned about to be Italian but who had lived in York for many years.

In the few moments before the service Angelo and I ended up chatting and I asked why a Roman Catholic Italian was attending a Protestant service in York Minster?

He shared his testimony of how many years ago he had been far from God but was still attending Catholic church from time to time.

One Christmas his Catholic church in York was closed as the heating system had broken down. So he went to a Christmas service at the Minster.

At that service he encountered God in a new and life-changing way and since that day he has attended evensong each day.

He spoke of how he now knew that ‘labels’ mean nothing and that we all worship the same Jesus Christ.

I was then able to share with him my testimony of serving the French Catholic church as a Protestant Evangelical missionary for 14 years.

We embraced as brothers.

That felt like a ‘God-moment’ to me, like God was reminding me of how He has done something in Sharon and my hearts and lives which has opened us up to the ecumenical imperative of John 17;

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,

that all of them may be one (John 17:20, NIV)

I’m not that sure what this encounter ‘means’.

But I think it was at least a reminder to Sharon and I that in our hearts God has put a deep love for our Catholic brothers and sisters and of all the other ‘sheep that are of a different sheep-fold’.

I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold (John 10:16, NLT)

As we approach the end of this ministry in Leicester, whatever we do, and wherever we go, we will do and go as people who embrace our brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of their spiritual tradition.


The Utility of Unity


I remember as a young man looking through shiny new car brochures and spending hours deciding on my perfect ‘spec’ for my brand new Volkswagon GTI. SO many decisions! Leather seats or not, electric windows or not, alloys and what colour of paint etc. etc.?

Of course in the end reality broke in and I reluctantly admitted that buying a new car was out of the question. I did manage to find a second-hand, 3 year old model that was in my budget. But that meant I was obliged to take whatever I got, option-wise!

When it comes to Christian unity, many churches seem to have pretty much the same approach as me and my car spec – it’s an optional extra. It would be a nice thing to have, if we could afford it, but actually, we can get along perfectly well without it.

Over the past few years I have become increasingly uncomfortable with this attitude towards Christian unity, mostly because I just don’t see it in the Bible.

When Jesus spoke of Christian unity He made some powerful statements about its significance.

‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23 NIVUK)

Jesus, is recorded here praying for His disciples before His imminent death, but He also takes time to look down through history and He prays for all those who will ever become Christians, everywhere.

A powerful moment, the only time Jesus does this in His life. So what does He pray for?

One thing. Unity.

He prays for unity amongst the Christians themselves and for their unity with God.

You might wonder why?

You might think there were other, more pressing, or more important things that Jesus could have prayed for. But His only recorded prayer for you and I, and all Christians down through time, is for our unity.

Why does Jesus consider this so important?

Well reading Jesus’ prayer shows us that Jesus believes our unity is vital because the success of our mission depends upon it.

He prays for our unity because it is what makes the world believe our message about Jesus.

He prays for our unity because it is what reveals to the world both Jesus’ divine nature, and God’s awesome love.

Jesus infers that nothing other than Christian unity can achieve this.

So is unity an optional extra?

Not according to Jesus. Rather Christian unity is the foundation of the Church’s success in mission.

Put differently, Jesus is saying to the Church, “Fail in unity and you will fail in everything.”

Recently I was struck by another text that powerfully speaks of the importance Christian unity.

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement

give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had,

so that with one mind and one voice

you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:5-6 NIVUK

Here, St Paul tells us some key things about unity;

Firstly, it can only come from God, He is the sole source of Christian unity.

In other words we receive unity, we don’t create it.

In our being related to God in saving faith, we ARE one with each other. Our challenge, therefore, is not to create unity, but to express it, to live it.

Secondly, unity starts in our minds and our thinking. We need to embrace God’s understanding of our unity and relate to each other as God would have us do.

Thirdly, unity is expressed in our combined action – working and witnessing to our shared faith.

Finally, unity brings glory to God.

Note that as “Man’s chief end is to glorify God”, (at least according to the Westminster Catechism) we cannot achieve our greatest human purpose without unity – it is that crucial.

Unity an optional extra? Far from it!

Christian unity is the foundation of success in everything the Church seeks to do.