News & Events
Opening the Week of Prayer
for Christian Unity
Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria BC
January 17, 2016
“This is a time for all of us, together as Christians, to proclaim the powerful work of tenderness. It is the poor who will reveal to us tenderness. It is the sick and the suffering. But it is a marvelous way forward, and it is delicate and it is beautiful, like the blossoms emerging on the cherry trees in Victoria. It is delicate, and it is beautiful, and it cannot be stopped.
~ Bishop Gary Gordon
Bishop Logan, my brothers and sisters,
You have a beautiful home here. It’s really beautiful. You could say this home, Christ Church Cathedral, is a proclamation of the mighty acts of God. It stands out. It’s noticed. It’s one kind of proclamation of the mighty acts of God.
The prayer that we prayed a few moments ago is a serious call. “Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions.” That’s a strong statement. The great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions.
Bishop Logan, you and I are the heads of these two churches. This prayer says we’re in trouble. Well, we are in trouble. We are in a whole heap o’ trouble. It was brought to me in a sense by a friend of mine about a month ago. I was talking to him, and he said to me, “There’s an old church near where I live, and it’s going to close.”
I said,”Oh, that’s too bad.”
“They say they don’t have enough parishioners, so they are going to close.”
I said,”Oh, that’s too bad.”
He said, “You know, it makes me feel like I want to go to church just so I can help them out, to keep it open.”
I said, “You never go to church! Why would you go now?”
“Well, I want to help them keep it open.”
I said,”You’ve never been a church-goer! What difference does it make to you?”
He said, “We need the Church.”
I said, “Why is that?”
“We live in troubled times, and it seems to be getting a whole lot worse,” he replied.
He’s a very successful businessman. He does a lot of good things. As a matter of fact, in October, he was at St Andrews Cathedral for a wedding I was performing. He had never been there before. He’s not a church-goer; he’s a good man, and he came up for a Blessing and just before the Blessing, he looked at me and he said, “I think I’d better get an estimate first.”
Yes, we do live in troubled times, and if we really hear that prayer we prayed a few moments ago, we are in serious trouble for our lack of unity. We’ve made great strides in coming together as Christians, and in these times, many Christians from many communions are suffering. You could say that the hands on the front of this brochure really all should have nails in them. There are many Christians around the world, people of many faiths, who are dying. There are great persecutions in many places.
What my friend pointed out is something more challenging, actually, than persecution, more challenging than the death of martyrs. It is indifference. Indifference is like dying from rust. Indifference is insidious; it’s hard to get hold of. Indifference is like ... being anaesthetized.
In this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Christian churches and communions around the world are praying for unity. We cannot be indifferent to this moment in time. We cannot be indifferent to the urgency of communion. And yet, we struggle with, How do we truly live the unity of our baptism? How can we put away the centuries of antagonism, and the barriers, and walls? This is an invitation to a mighty Work.
I’d like to give you a suggestion of proclaiming the mighty works of God. It comes from the Beatitudes. I’ve never tried to take hold of all the Beatitudes, because I would be doomed to failure if I tried to get them all. I usually just try to work on one at a time. I’m still working on one. But there are two that start with the letter ‘m’ that I think are of particular note, and that could truly move us forward in this grace and spirit-driven possibility of unity.
One is ‘meekness’. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). The meek. There has been a great global voice from the climate conference in Paris, and from Pope Francis in Laudato Si’, for the earth and all the inhabitants and creatures of the earth. It will take great meekness to even begin to transform our consumption of the earth. Meekness. I think that is a great Beatitude that can give the ecumenical movement a tremendous proclamation, a mighty proclamation of God in the world.
The second is ‘mercy’. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7). In the Roman Catholic Church we inaugurated a Jubilee Year of Mercy on December 8, 2015. Pope Francis wants us to live mercifully. And if we look at the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, there is a great grace of unity: clothe the naked, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, bury the dead. There is great power in mercy, a great way forward.
These are the two Beatitudes that are the proclamation of the power of God. Meekness. You won’t get rich if you’re meek.
And mercy. You’ll get even poorer if you are merciful. It’s about descending downward rather than rising upward.
To proclaim the powerful works of God in this particular time, I would suggest a third word, which is ‘tenderness’. All the other possibilities of power, and might, and grandeur, and wealth; they’ve been tried and they’re not working. This is a time for all of us, together as Christians, to proclaim the powerful work of tenderness. And then you’ll be really poor!
Tenderness. It is the poor who will reveal to us tenderness. It is the sick and the suffering. But it is a marvellous way forward, and it is delicate and it is beautiful, like the blossoms emerging on the cherry trees in Victoria. It is delicate, and it is beautiful, and it cannot be stopped.
And finally, let me leave you with a little story of a moment of grace-filled tenderness that just happened. Bishop Logan and I know a gentleman who lived most of his life on these hard, broken streets of Victoria. He died just a little over a week ago. And I went up to the village of Gold River on Friday for the prayers, and to celebrate the funeral Mass for this gentleman. And I could see in the mind’s eye of the congregation gathered there, What’s the Bishop doing here? Why is the Bishop here? So I had to explain that, and I will explain it to you.
I was called to the hospital late one night about a year ago, to bring comfort and prayers to this young man who they thought was going to die. I went there. It’s always amazing to me how some people are in a room and some people are in the hallway. We were in the hallway. We prayed together for a few moments, then my friend took my hands, he grabbed my hands, and he said, “You’re my brother.”
That’s why I went for the funeral. This was my brother, in Christ. We have so many beautiful opportunities to have brothers and sisters. To celebrate the mystery of life, and the goodness of God, and to be tender with one another, to be tender with a stranger.
There is a mighty Work happening here between the Anglican communion and the Roman Catholic communion. In February I had a meeting with Rev. Bryant-Scott. He called me, and said, “We’ve got to sit down and have coffee.” So we sat down and he said, “You know, we have a Master Agreement for refugees, and you lost yours—but we are kind of maxed out. We need some help. We need some more people, more parishes.” I said, “Great! That’s great!” So we’ve put in place a Memorandum, and that’s so beautiful. We’ve got something going really strong in these islands we call home. We’ve got this communion taking care of strangers. Opening our doors.
Brothers and sisters, there is a way forward for ecumenism and for unity. Bishop Logan and I, we don’t want to be in trouble. We don’t want to be in a whole heap o’ trouble. The way forward is meekness, to inherit a good earth; and mercy, to overturn the rage that exists in the world today. And the modality for both of these, meekness and mercy, is tenderness.
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit,