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.

Fallen Stones – Rebuilt


When we first arrived in Villy en Auxois, our new friends soon showed us a ruined chapel in the woods above the village. No-one seemed to know much about it, although some said it was dated to the 15th century and possibly associated with a leper colony.

There really wasn’t much to see. The roof was gone, the walls mostly collapsed, in a few more decades it would disappear totally.

However, after a couple of years, a small group of people started to talk about the possibility of restoring it.

To be honest, I wasn’t that hopeful. The chapel didn’t have any great architectural interest – it was after all, just a modest 15th century funerary chapel for a local leper community (at least that was the understanding).

However, research was done and it transpired that the chapel was a lot older than previously thought. In fact the unearthed lintel showed an inscription which stated that Jean de Vienne, Amiral de France, Seigneur de Franche-Comté, had restored the chapel in 1346  – so its origins were pushed backwards dramatically. Indeed it seems most likely that it was originally constructed between 500 and 800 !

So instead of a chapel that had stood for 500 years, we had one that had stood for 1,500!

This discovery prompted feasibility studies and grant applications, and finally the colossal amount necessary to restore the chapel 300,000 € was granted.

Work went on and was finally completed in 2013. An inaugural re-dedication mass was finally held on Saturday 16th August 2014.

My wife and I were present at that mass. Indeed, my wife had been asked to organize the mass and lead the singing. I ended up operating the sound system.

Two Protestant Evangelicals present and intimately involved, in a Catholic community’s re-dedication mass of a chapel that had been ruined and unused for around 300 years!

I cannot tell you how significant that felt for us, two people who have felt God’s call to come to France to offer ourselves in humble service to our Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ.

We can only pray that it is a prophetic sign that God is about to restore and revive the spiritual ruin of this nation.

There is a passage in the Bible that has become very precious to me.

“The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me to and fro among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’” Ezekiel 37:1-3 NIV

God has brought my wife and I to this ‘valley of dry bones’ – local churches are struggling due to a lack of priests, they have ageing congregations and little in the way of resources.

God’s question is moot, ‘Can these bones live?’

Ezekiel’s response to God was wonderful,

I said, ‘Sovereign Lord, you alone know.’

This is the only possible response a human being can make. For all things are possible for God, but we cannot presume to know His specific will, we can only pray, trust and hope.

God tells Ezekiel that He is going to bring these bones back to life and instructs him to prophesy to these bones, to tell them what God is going to do to them!

As Ezekiel does this he starts to hear a rattling sound, bones moving together, re-assembling.  Tendons, attach, flesh grows, finally skin covers these bodies, but they are still cadavers, still lifeless.

Then God says to Ezekiel to prophesy breath to these cadavers.

So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.

Perhaps on Saturday 14th August 2014 we heard a rattling sound. Perhaps we saw tendons, flesh and skin appearing. And it was wonderful. But we await the coming of the breath. We await the coming of the life of God, the reviving Spirit; the One who will cause a new people of God to come to life, to stand up, to begin to love and serve the Lord.

Well, that’s what I’m praying for…


The God of Zebulun and Naphtali

Sunday, 23 January 2011, a sermon for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

[Texts – Is 8:23; 9:1-3; Ps 26,1, 4, 13-14; 1 Cor. 1:10-13, 17; Matt 4:12-23]


‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’(Matthew 4:15-16, NIV)

I just love to watch football on TV. I think football is a beautiful game – a game invented by the English, I can’t help but remind you ! What I like about this game is that it is always unpredictable. There are always surprises.

You can watch a game for 75 minutes, and it can be completely uneven. One team playing well, the other is awful. One team scores several goals, the other does not get out of their half of the pitch. One team plays with great organisation, technical mastery, the other cannot do anything. One team is confident, has belief, the other fear is riddled by fear and doubt.

The game seems to have been decided, the victory gained or defeat certain, the spectators begin to leave the stadium.

And then something happens…

It can be anything. A stroke of genius that enables someone to score a goal from midfield. A defensive error. A substitute who takes the field and that changes everything. Even an injustice committed by the referee – it happens from time to time ! – something which fires up the players, which gives them energy, motivates them, and in 30 seconds the game has been transformed.

The team that was lousy, dreadful even, is suddenly transformed. The team starts to really play, to score, to believe. Suddenly, with 10 minutes still to play, it is total insanity! Anything can happen.

That’s what I love about football, this unpredictability, this possibility of reversal, that what majkes it so exciting.

I cannot tell you if God loves football, I have read the Bible quite extensively but I have not found a text that tells us this ! But what I can say, and without hesitation, is that God loves reversals, he loves unpredictable twists and turns, he loves the unexpected.

How can I tell you that? Because that’s exactly what we heard in the above readings. We read a bit about Zebulun and Naphtali – two regions on Israel.

These two regions did not have a glorious history.

When God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt and out of slavery, he led them to the Promised Land. Each of the 12 tribes were given a territory. However, although God gave them these territories, they had to fight and take them. These territories were inhabited, so they had to conquer them. God says he will be with them and that they will succeed, but they must make the effort, fight, believe God, trust him.

However, we read in Judges chapter 1 that Zebulun and Naphtali failed to dispossess the pagan inhabitants of their territories. I do not know if it was due to their cowardice, or their laziness, or their lack of faith  because they did not believe that God will help them, or by simple disobedience. But for whatever reason, they did not dispossess the pagan inhabitants and all their subsequent history was marked by this failure.

Other Jews despised them. We read that they were called “the crossroads of the Gentiles” – which was not a compliment but a reproach. You are failures, cowardly, useless! You couldn’t do what God told you to do. God gave you an opportunity, a chance, but you missed it! You were too weak. You just compromised and chose to live amongst pagans. You’re not good Jews, you are a filthy unholy mixture. That’s how much they were frowned upon, despised, cursed by their fellow Jews.

Is there a hope for people like that ? If we miss our chance with God is there still hope for us ? If we have made ​​mistakes, if we were weak, cowardly, if we lacked the faith, if we failed to trust God is there still hope? Will God abandon us, turn his back on us, walk away from us ?

Listen to what we have just read ;

‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’ (Matthew 4:15-16, NIV)

Our God is the God of Zebulun and Naphtali. He is the God of reversals, the God who overturns, the God of unexpected things, really unexpected.

When Jesus, God Himself comes among us, to what area does he come ?

Nazareth in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali !

When Jesus began to preach the Good News that God does not leave us in our sins, our mistakes, our failures, but has come to offer us the possibility of forgiveness, reconciliation with Him. When Jesus begins to do wonders, miracles, where is it that all this starts?

Galilee, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali !

This passage gives me a lot of hope today. First for me personally. In my life as a Christian, I am a rather more weak that strong. Sometimes I’m not as serious as I should be in my religious practice. Sometimes I rather more fail than I succeed. Is there still hope for a poor guy like me?

Fortunately yes ! Because our God is the God of Zebulun and Naphtali. When I stumble, I find myself flat in the dirt, God takes me by the collar, he pulls me to my feet and tells me, “Okay Stephen, let’s try again, here we go, follow me.”

This passage also gives me hope for the church in Europe – I mean the whole church – Catholic and Protestant. The church in Europe is struggling at this time. Maybe we are all a little guilty for this. Maybe we have not made enough effort to adapt to the contemporary world. Although our gospel cannot change, because Jesus does not change, the way we make known that gospel, offer this faith, even how we live this faith must adapt, must be continually renewed. Maybe we have failed to have sufficient courage, or imagination, to change, to renew, to adapt to our post- modern context.

Perhaps also, we are content to be Christians rather than disciples. We stick simply to a religious identity, rather than entering into a living, intimate and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which transforms us.

Also, it must be admitted that the history of the church in Europe over the last 500 years, is not all glory. Our story is like that of the church of Corinth in our reading . A church that was torn by religious clans. Christians who are divided, in opposing factions, confrontational.

Is there a hope for a church like this? What will God do with us? Is God going to leave us in our failures, our weaknesses, our mistakes?

on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned

Our God is the God of Zebulun and Naphtali!

God is making his glory shine even now in the midst of us.

In proof of this I invite you to ponder what is happening here today in this mass. You have before you a Protestant guy who is giving the homily (Perhaps he’s not doing it so well, but never mind!).

But imagine if 50 years ago someone would dare to have suggest such a thing !

But by the grace of God we have finally realized that what unites us in Christ is far more important that what differentiates us in our traditions. We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

Finally, after 500 years we are coming together. This is something so unexpected! An incredible turnaround of the situation !

But our God, is the God of Zebulun and Naphtali, and he is doing it!

In our days a Protestant family can find a home, can experience brotherly love, in the heart of a Catholic community. And here I must take this opportunity to express to you from the bottom of my heart, my deep gratitude for the welcome, the fraternal love that we have experienced from you these past 10 years.

Our God is the God of Zebulun and Naphtali is doing a new thing!

He is making his glory shine even amongst us! So be brave! Hope ! Believe ! Work, and especially pray that God continues to do something new here, that He establishes his kingdom among us, that he enables us to become disciples of Jesus Christ and that together we can worship and preach the good news of Jesus Christ to our contemporaries.

May our God, the God of Zebulun and Naphtali, bless us all. Amen.

Stephen J. March

[Preached ay the parishes of Sombernon (22/01/11) and Vitteaux (23/01/11)]

Different Sheep


“I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also.

They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

John 10:16 NIV

In this parabolic saying Jesus reveals to his disciples that the Kingdom of God was to be much wider than their current expectations and experience.

Up until this point the followers of Christ had been drawn almost exclusively from within the Jewish nation. Through this teaching Jesus reveals to his disciples that the future of the Christian Church is to be much wider than this narrow ethnic group.

As I read this passage recently it struck me that Jesus defines one of his key activities as

the bringing of these diverse disciples into unity with one another.

Jesus the Shepherd seeks and saves sheep in many different sheep pens, but his activity doesn’t stop there.

He goes on to bring these sheep into relationship with each other

– a unity founded on a common relationship to Christ.

May the Holy Spirit help each of us to reflect on this passage and to be open to recognising,


and celebrating

sheep from out with our particular sheep pen.

May the Shepherd himself work amongst us to bring us into unity with each other.

Peter Meiderlin, the pacificator


Perhaps the most famous maxim for relationships between Christians from different traditions is;

 In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.

This maxim appears in almost every call for Christians to live at peace and in unity with each other. However, it is only recently that I discovered the origin of this famous quote.

Although it has been attributed to various Christian authors, it has recently been traced with certainty to one ‘Peter Meiderlin’. He was an otherwise unknown 17th century German divine.

In 1627, at the height of the Thirty Years’ War in Europe, Peter Meiderlin published a tract calling for peaceful toleration between the warring Christian factions. It was in this tract, writing under the pseudonym of Rupertus Meldinius, that first appeared this now famous sentence,

In a word, I’ll say it: if we preserve unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and charity in both, our affairs will be in the best position.”

Prof. Philip Schaff states,

“It was during the fiercest dogmatic controversies and the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War that a prophetic voice whispered to future generations the watchword of Christian peacemakers, which was unheeded in a century of intolerance, and forgotten in a century of indifference, but resounds with increased force in a century of revival and re-union.”

                                                                                            (from ‘History of the Christian Church’ Vol. 7, pp650-653)

The English divine Richard Baxter quoted Meldenius’ sentence in a publication dated 1679 and referred to him as ‘the pacificator’ or peacemaker.

I find it very moving to think that this lone voice, speaking out for peace and unity amongst Christians, originally ignored in the maelstrom of religious hatred and intolerance, comes to be used some 300 years later as the watchword and rallying cry for a world-wide movement of Christians working for unity.

Sometimes God just does beautiful stuff.

God bless you Peter Meiderlin, the pacificator, you are an example to us all.