If there’s one thing that other countries think of at the moment when they look at the United Kingdom, I suspect ‘united’ might not be one of them. Our newspapers have different ideas of who will ‘reunite our fractured nation’; our politicians, our Royal Family or perhaps the latest TV programme or loved celebrity (my money is on the return of Ant and Dec by the way!)
In the same way I suspect when people look at the Church, the word ‘unity’ doesn’t always spring to mind either. Yet as I’ve been preparing to speak on chapter 17 of John’s gospel, I am more convinced that if the unity of his followers is on Jesus’ heart, then it should be on ours too.
Jesus' prayer about unity will certainly apply to the unity we called to have within Jubilee and it will also apply to the unity we're to have with other Christians on Teesside (or wherever we live). Unity however doesn’t mean that all our church communities have to look the same or that we can’t work out our understanding of how to apply Bible truth in different ways. Yet I think it leads back to chapter 1 of the same gospel, where John writes ‘to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God’. We are united to others that have come to believe in Jesus, and we’re now together, children of God. In one sense you could suggest that the call on the Church is not to get united, but rather to recognise that we are already united in Christ!
Many churches on Teesside continue on a journey together exploring that unity. One more recent expression of that is Transforming Teesside Together, a relational unity movement of churches and Christian charities.
You might have already seen the videos in this article on social media that explain more about this unity movement. If not, why not take some time to watch them. I think they reflect much of Jesus’ prayer in John 17, particularly his emphasis on unity and the great mission of God in the world that He passionately catches us up in! Unity displays the Son of God and the love of God.
'The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me'
John 17: 22-23
The second video talks about an initiative called 'Serve Teesside'. As a church we've said a hearty 'yes' to getting involved in this, so look out for more details as and when we have them.
I certainly don’t claim to be an expert in this whole area of unity but I know that if it’s on Jesus’ prayer list, it needs to be on mine too!
p.s. If you visit the website you can sign up to receive regular news updates on the movement.
I couldn’t possibly write an Elders’ letter this month without at least making reference to that amazing night in Madrid on June 1st and Liverpool FC’s historic sixth Champions League trophy. Non-football fans…please don’t switch off!