The February edition of New Directions will be heading to the printers as we begin the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This annual fixture in the life of the church was instigated and developed by Anglo-Catholics who understood that the unity of Christ’s Church was a Gospel imperative from the Lord himself. As Anglican Catholics, we are painfully aware of what divides our church and what threatens to continue to cause us to be divided from the Universal Church. Pope Francis reminded Christians just before Unity Week that praying and working for unity was not an optional extra but central to the life of every Christian. The ecumenical endeavour is something we should all strive towards as part of our Christian vocation. It is perhaps too easy for us as Anglicans to get overly involved with the work of unity in our own fractured church and thus ignore the call for unity with other Christians. As a constituency we need to remember that our history has been one of seeking deeper unity with the churches of East and West, and it is for this reason that we have resisted any doctrinal or dogmatic change in our own church that would damage those relationships. Such changes seem to have come rather too frequently in these past years with challenges to the traditional understanding of holy order, confirmation, marriage and the teaching of Creeds. Thus, our task remains as important as ever, to defend the Catholic faith as the Church of England has received it. We do this not because we want some pure little part of the church for ourselves but because we continue to believe that the Church of England is part of the Universal Church, and that anything that seeks to damage the chances of unity is not something which we would want to support. We therefore need to make sure as a movement that we are at the forefront of ecumenical dialogue and in engaging where we can on a local, national and international level. It is in this way that we can fulfil a part of our vocation as Christians which is sometimes overlooked.
The theme for Unity Week this year came from the book of Deuteronomy: ‘justice, and only justice, you shall pursue.’ The quest for justice in our society is also a Gospel imperative. We are called upon as people of faith to strive to bring justice and peace to all people. The work going on in our parishes up and down the country shows that this continues to be of great importance to us. Our forebears understood that an incarnational faith fully lived meant seeking to serve those around us and work with those marginalized in our society. In the 19th century, Anglo-Catholics worked to alleviate poverty and suffering in the slums, in the 20th century, they fought to alleviate the oppression of Apartheid, and in this century we will need to continue to fight poverty and social division. Parishes in our cities face issues around drug abuse and knife crime as well as poverty. As Christian communities, we need to work in partnership with community groups and organizations to see how we can rebuild and heal our society. This might mean running a citizens advice group, a place to help refugees and asylum seekers, a foodbank, or offering support and teaching in schools to counter the threat of drugs and knife crime.
As communities we seek to support those who are in need and by doing so we show that we believe that each life, created by God, has ultimate value. This concern for human life means we need to be aware of the threats to the dignity of human life that face our society both at its beginning and at its end. So called ‘assisted dying’ is very much on the agenda of some politicians. Whilst this can be framed in terms of compassion and love, as Christians we know that life is a gift from God, and thus something to be cherished. Beyond signing petitions and writing letters it can be hard to know what to do to promote life. However, we would like to suggest that readers can do something practical by supporting their local hospice, practically and financially. Hospices are often desperately in need of funds and support so that they can offer the best end of life care and support that they can. Finally in all of these areas of concern our primary task as Christians is to pray—to pray for the preservation of the sanctity of life, to pray for justice and peace, and to pray that Christians might find that unity for which Christ himself prayed.