Last Sunday evening I preached the message during the 6pm Mass in Our Lady Help of Christians Roman Catholic Church, Epping. It was a great privilege and I thank Fr. Peter Dowd for his kind invitation.
The church comes in many different shapes and forms. During the course of my ministry I have engaged in ministry with the Presbyterian Church of Korea, the Church of South India, the Church of North India, the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe, the United Church of Zambia, the Evangelical Christian Church in Timor, the Protestant Church in Bali, the Christian Church in Indonesia, the Protestant Church in East Timor, the United Church in Papua New Guinea, just to name a few.
Each church embodies its own traditions and theological legacy – from an evangelical passion to a high church liturgy, from a background of non-conformism to a formal, pietistic expression of faith. And for me, it’s not a case that one church is any ‘better’ or more ‘correct’ than the other.
God’s church across this world is an incredibly diverse thing. And I believe every passion and every expression of faith has an authentic role to play in bearing witness to Jesus Christ.
Such differences exist even here in West Epping. We are a diverse community and I have learnt so much from those of you who believe evangelism should be our main focus. I have been deeply moved by those of you who place prayer and a diligent reading of the scriptures as a top priority. I have been lovingly prodded by those of you who constantly speak of the need to reach out to the community and to engage in social justice. And I have been clearly encouraged by those of you who regularly affirm ministry is all about pastoral care and the shepherding of people.
It takes all types to make up the church. It takes all kinds of perspectives and theologies. It takes all sorts of personalities and experiences. It takes a multitude of gifts and ways of doing things. And to be honest, I am not so sure God wants the church to be a single monolithic body where everyone is the same and where everyone agrees. That would be some kind church!
Today I ask you to pause and to look at this West Epping community. Consider those around you whose priorities may be different. Think about those who may interpret the Bible differently. Reflect on those whose expression of what it means to be church may seem to be incompatible or even contradictory to you.
I have learnt so such from those who are different to myself. I have been able to exercise my gifts in ministry, not because I have closed my eyes and ears to others but because I have opened myself to the rich diversity that is the church. I am who I am today because I believe God’s spirit has touched and formed me through the vast range of insights and experiences others have offered to me.
Friends, the truth of the matter is that we need each other. We need each other in order to grow and to further discern what God calls us to do.
Let us, therefore, be open, respectful and considerate towards one another. Let us listen, let us learn and let us walk together as a people who are “in Christ”.
This is what it means to be the church and I believe this is what God truly intends for us today.
Rev John Barr