At our 2019 Diocesan Synod a group joined in a discussion about a very contentious issue. The conversation was hosted by two people who deeply disagreed about the topic. As co-hosts they recognised the importance of the lead they needed to give if the group was going to be constructive. They set out to model careful listening, respectful speaking and taking time. After several hours of being together, and plenty of robust discussion, neither of the co-hosts had changed their minds about the topic. They still disagreed. But, to the deep surprise of both, what had changed was the way they saw and felt about each other. After the conversation they both said they now profoundly respected and esteemed the other. They were no longer suspicious and antagonistic. They had become friends.
As they told me of this experience, and related their surprise, I was reminded of the tell-tale signs of the Spirit’s presence: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5.22-23). The Spirit is real and really transforms people.
The BBC recently conducted a survey in 27 different countries. In all but two of those countries people said they thought their society was divided. 70 percent of Australians believe Australian society is divided.
Anglican schools, parishes and community services are not immune to conflict and division. The Anglican Church, nationally, and the international Anglican Communion are facing divisive issues.
For young and old alike, social media has become a tool that can foster division and conflict. This can happen in personal relationships, as well as at the political level. The media has highlighted conflict among students, parents, teachers, political parties and other groups in the community.
The Church is called to reconcile conflict and to transcend divisions. The Church is called to live in a profoundly different way and to be a sign and agent of that unity which is God’s will and God’s gift.
In the Nicene Creed we affirm that ‘we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church’. These words challenge us to be one, to live in unity, despite anything that might separate us. In John 17, Jesus prays that his followers may all be one so that the world may believe the Father sent him.
One of the marks of mission of the Anglican Church in Southern Queensland is ‘to live as one holy catholic and apostolic Church’. When we strive to live as one, we are participating in God’s mission and embodying Jesus’ way in the world. Of course, this can be a big challenge. It might be the biggest challenge of our time.
In 2014 General Synod approved ‘Being Together – expectations of behaviour in our church community’, Every diocese in Australia is asked to adopt this guide for behaviour in our church communities and organisations.
‘Being Together’ outlines principles for relationships that are positive and life-giving, even as we live with different views and disagreements.
“Jesus told us to love one another as he loves us. As Christians we know our life together is strengthened when our behaviour is consistent with our faith. However, our experience of being together can be difficult, particularly when there are differences. So it is important to be clear about how we will behave towards each other.”
Differences have the potential to strain relationships and breed resentment. Unchecked, over time, suspicions and even contempt for each other can emerge. On the other hand, differences can be a source of strength, growth and unity. The outcome depends on the choices we make.
Despite the feelings of division in 25 out of 27 countries, the BBC survey also showed that, globally, forty percent of people believe that being with people from different backgrounds, cultures or points of view can lead to mutual understanding and respect. It depends on how we are together.
Over the next three years our Diocesan theme will be ‘Being Together’.
We will encourage each other to explore how we can be together in ways that acknowledge difference and disagreement, yet strengthen respect, communication and, ultimately, love.
Each of the three years will have a subtheme that approaches ‘Being Together’ from a different angle.
The subthemes invite us to develop skills for peacemaking, nurturing relationships and celebrating difference.
2020 – Being Together: Practising Peacemaking
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5.9)
Practising Peacemaking will focus on acknowledging difference and responding to conflict based on gospel values.
2021 – Being Together: Nurturing Relationships
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7.12)
Nurturing relationships will focus on how, in Christ, we relate to and communicate with each other when we are not in conflict, to build deep bonds founded on trust to provide strong foundations for times when inevitable differences will arise.
2022 – Being Together: Embracing Joy
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12.12-13)
Embracing Joy will focus on celebrating the way differences help to make us whole and the importance of diversity in our unity.
Throughout the next three years resources will be developed and events celebrated to help us make this journey together. I encourage everyone in our Diocese to embrace ‘Being Together’ as a gift and a challenge, and to explore how you can positively be together with others in your unique context.
Gather with members of our whole Diocesan community on Thursday 13 February 2020 as Archbishop Phillip Aspinall launches the 2020 Diocesan theme, ‘Being Together: Practising Peacemaking’. The service and formalities will commence at 5.30 pm, with food and fellowship between 7.00 pm and 8.00 pm. This is a free event. All community members are warmly welcome to attend. More information on Facebook.Jump to next article