Review of The Gathering 2012

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Jennie Willson shares her experience from The Gathering

“For me, one of the most poignant parts of the 'Gathering' in Aberystwyth in October was when a student, who was being interviewed on stage was asked a question about Ecumenism. Despite regularly attending church and having been at the event all morning with the rest of us, she still replied 'I don't really know what it means'.

“It was a quite a relief in a way - much as I understand the ideas around wanting the church to be 'one', I don't actually know what the word ecumenism actually means! I have looked it up since and the definitions basically talk about promoting unity in the Christian church.

“In my professional life I train organisations to make sure that what they are doing is actually making people 'better off'. Instead of just doing 'what they think is right' or 'what they have always done', I encourage them to think about whether what they are doing is making people happier or better educated or healthier - usually whatever it is they were set up do in the first place.

“My biggest question that came out of attending the 'Gathering' was to question why we (the churches) actually needed to change. Who did we want to be 'better off' as a result of the changes we were looking to make? And were the changes that were proposed going to actually make those people better off?

“In John 17:20-23 Jesus says ‘I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 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’.

“Jesus is praying that we 'may all be as one' and as a result the world may believe that God sent Him, Jesus, and that same God loves all of us. To get this message across, we need to all be speaking as one, showing the world that we have one shared belief.
“I think one of the key parts of understanding why we need to work as one church is not to look at the church not from the inside, where we are, but from the outside - from the point of view of someone who isn't part of the church. We know that we all have the same basic beliefs as Christians but does it appear that way from outside? Are we welcoming people as a whole church, helping them to find the type of worship that is right for them or are we trying to convince them that Anglicanism or Methodism or whatever is the right church and they should stay with us? Is there anything on the outside to show that we are a united church or could people reasonably think that we are all different, all promoting different beliefs and in competition?

“Most of us are to some extent protective about our own style of worship, our own church buildings and the way we do things. Different styles of worship allow for the different people in the world - and we are all very different! We all learn in different ways and socialise differently and that is fine! We need to provide for all ages, all educational levels, all abilities and all knowledge. We can't do that all at once!

“I think that Jesus would also have appreciated the meaning of Aristotle's 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts'. This is basically saying that when all the parts of something come together and act as one, it is much stronger than each of those parts acting individually. For example, if you laid out all the parts that make up a car, they might each be useful on their own for something small but unless they all work together they won't have the ability to get you wherever you want to drive!

“What we can do is have a united starting point. One church that anyone can come to and then be helped to find the way of worship and fellowship that is right for them. One church that is easy to find and whichever building or church member people go to, they get the same information and access to the same range of services, activities and support.

“We also need to practise what we preach. If we present as a united church we need to accept each others' traditions and ways of doing things. That doesn't mean we need to change our usual way but we should join together, support united services and events and share information about and support each others' activities. Often an occasional change can really get you thinking in a different way and challenge the way you do things and that is really important. If going to visit America makes me even more convinced I should be living in the UK, that's good, at least I know what I am doing is right! If I didn't challenge my beliefs, how would I ever know I was right?!

“The changes proposed by the 'Gathering', sharing some of the oversight of the churches and also working to allow vicars/ministers/pastors etc to be able to lead services and share communion in a range of churches simply allows for that necessary unity. It allows the church as a whole to grow stronger in the community, to have a united voice and to provide what the communities in Wales need, as a whole, many options for the many different people. A shared God, a shared belief, a shared mission to share the love of Jesus with everyone!”.

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