‘Unity in Diversity’Published on 28th January, 2015
‘ Unity in Diversity ‘ – Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2015.
This was the ‘mission statement’ driving all the meetings held in our local churches during this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The beginning of the Week was marked by an Ecumenical Service in All Saints’ Church Rhiwbina on the evening of Sunday, 18th January; and it culminated in a similar celebration in St Mary’s Parish Church, Whitchurch, on the evening of Sunday, 25th January, attended by a congregation of more than one hundred and thirty people drawn from the churches and chapels of Whitchurch, Birchgrove, and Rhiwbina.
This theme for the Week of Prayer originated in Brazil whose churches, divided into many denominations traditionally tolerant of each other, are now beginning to compete with each other for members, public funds, and media attention. Growing intolerance, which finds its expression in violence against minorities and the vulnerable, has led the Brazilian churches to realise that the only permanent path to reconciliation lies in respecting diversity and promoting dialogue. Their chosen passage for the Week was St John’s Gospel, chapter 4, verses 1 – 42, the account of Jesus’s encounter with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well in Sychar.
Four members of local chapels gave a ‘dramatic’ reading of the narrative and this formed the basis for the sermon given by Rev’d Jonathan Vaughan Davies of Bethel Baptist Chapel. Jonathan reminded us of the historical hatred of the Jews for the Samaritans, and pointed out how alien it was to the culture of that time and place for a Jewish rabbi even to speak to a Samaritan, let alone a Samaritan woman, and especially to this woman, who was clearly a social outcast or she would not have felt the need to walk so far in the midday heat to Jacob’s Well when there were other wells much nearer to the village. When challenged, the woman admitted her colourful past – she had had five husbands and was currently cohabiting with a man who was not her husband.
Most Jewish rabbis, Jonathan said, would have felt contaminated by the mere presence of such a woman; but Jesus’s grace reached out to her as He told her that He was the Messiah, the Promised One, the source of living water which would ‘ spring up into eternal life’.
As a result of this encounter, other Samaritans came out from the city and invited Jesus to stay with them, subsequently telling the woman: ‘ Now we believe, for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the World.’
Rev’d Jonathan challenged us as members of the local churches to follow Jesus’s example and move out of our comfort zones and reach out in love to the outcasts in our society. He also reminded us that, as fellow-members of Christ’s body, we should reach out to each other, recognising our differences, but striving for that unity in diversity which is God’s will for His church.
The service was remarkable for its simplicity and palpable mood of serenity as we rejoiced that our Christian faith, while finding expression in differing modes of worship, unites all of us, as fellow-members of the body of Christ, in a bond of peace.
‘ And other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice. And there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd.’
( St John, chapter 10, verse 16 )