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After 14 years as the Ecumenical Development Officer for Birmingham Churches Together it is with very mixed feelings that I hand over to Robert Mountford who will be monitoring emails and ensuring communications continue until a new Officer is appointed. I have got to know Robert well in recent years as the Ecumenical Officer for Black Country Churches Engaged and the picture above is a selfie taken by Robert with me after a recent Commonwealth Games planning meeting.
It is with gratitude to God that I look back on my time with Birmingham Churches Together. The work has provided opportunities to meet many amazing people whose Christian ministries are an inspiration as I’ve drawn alongside to help them to connect more widely.
Psalm 133:1 “How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity!”
I have discovered that Unity is a gift from God which we can experience by sharing in partnership with Christians whose background, tradition or stream is different from our own. We are blessed in Birmingham, Solihull and the West Midlands to belong to a wider body of Christ that reflects the full diversity of World Christianity with Pentecostal, Apostolic, Evangelical, Charismatic, Independent and Orthodox Christians who meet for fellowship and worship in hundreds of places of worship across the region. We cannot afford to take this gift for granted, it requires nurturing for it grow and flourish.
How well do you know each other?
Christian Unity challenges us to grow in connection and fellowship with each other across natural divides of cultural, ethnic and doctrinal differences. How well we do this will be a measure of our unity.
What does Christian Unity mean in our challenging urban context of multiple diverse networks?
Whilst at one time the call to unity was taken to mean reconciliation into a closer institutional unity between churches divided by doctrine, today I believe we are rediscovering Unity as a gift of God, most especially when we share in God’s mission with fellow followers of Christ.
The call to this unity, requires us to move out of our comfort zones and spend sufficient time for new friendships to grow. We should never be complacent or satisfied with a narrow circle of relationships, we should always be reaching and expanding the breadth of our fellowship and friendship. There is so much opportunity in all our neighbourhoods as there are many different expressions of Christianity being lived out everyday across the region. We do not need to go far, for example, I know Anglican, Pentecostal, Catholic, Orthodox and Quaker Christians who live along my street.
It is my privilege to know many of you and through you I’ve learnt about many wonderful expressions of local unity.
For example each Good Friday over 30 groups of Christians across Birmingham and Solihull walk together as an act of witness through the streets of their local neighbourhood. This picture was taken along the Soho Road in Handsworth. These walks only happen because an underlying network of relationships is sustained between places of worship.
Other examples include prayer gatherings, foodbanks, street pastors, homelessness support, chaplaincy and other expressions that bring together Christians from different backgrounds.
Restore, the refugee and asylum seekers befriending project draws Christians together from a wide range of church streams. The community outreach offered by St John’s Narthex, Sparkhill is only possible because of the Christians who volunteer from across different traditions. Perhaps it is unfair to single out these two as there are many other examples across Birmingham and Solihull.
My vision of unity is that all our places of worship bring together Christians who share in prayer, fellowship, ministry and mission with others whose background is completely different from their own. In this way the wider Church can be connected through multiple networks criss-crossing between our different places of worship.
As I write I am acutely aware that new challenges face us as we learn to fellowship and sustain ministry while buildings are closed and we remain physically apart. You may be concerned about the ongoing viability of your place of worship or ministry once this crisis is over.
Perhaps this time of enforced isolation is an opportunity to reach out to a nearby place of worship or another ministry? There are so many ways of doing this. After finding a contact number on a webpage we can connect remotely through Zoom, WhatsApp, phone, email, Skype or Facebook to offer ongoing prayer and support.
As for me, in the immediate I am looking forward to a break, albeit with limited movement in the current circumstances. As I’m not moving away, I hope our paths will cross from time to time.
A final word of the thanks to you all for fellowship and encouragement and for the ongoing support along the way from BCT Presidents, Church Leaders and Trustees during my time as Ecumenical Officer.
Colin Marsh, retired Ecumenical Development Officer for Birmingham Churches Together, 2nd April 2020
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