What the week of Christian unity can offer

I don’t know why, but I always had a “soft spot” for diversity. When I was growing up in Poland in the 1990’s, due to years of communism and oppression, Poland and Lublin weren’t the most diverse places on earth, however even then, I noticed signs and opportunities to build dialogue with minority groups and organisations.

As a member of the Focolare Movement, one of my earliest recollections of taking an active part in an event, which was celebrating diversity, was the Week of Christian Unity. I found it absolutely fascinating when, every January, I had a real privilege to visit different places of workshops and “utilise” religion as a platform for a common good. Very often, a simple cup of tea, “corridor conversation” with no “strings attached” helped me to enrich my own “faith journey” and “cemented” my beliefs.

Since coming to the UK, this experience has in many ways intensified. Although I live in a relatively small town in Hertfordshire, I am surrounded by Christian Churches of different traditions; there are Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, and Catholics, all doing their part to build a more tolerant and cohesive community.

Why is it important? This week marks The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, during which Christians around the world participate in various initiatives to build on and enhance the Christian unity. Moreover, this week encourages all Christians to move toward the fulfilment of Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper “that they all may be one.” 

In spite of various challenges, religion being seen as an “obstacle” and not a solution to address some of the local or global problems, I personally believe that all churches and other faith groups still have so much to offer. The role of the church as such has also changed significantly in the last few decades. I am pleased that the church leaders and their congregations play an active part in shaping their communities, delivering many projects and activities, which make a tangible impact on our neighbourhoods e.g. Food Banks, Play Groups, legal advice sessions, mental health support groups and many more. In my experience, a vast majority of our local faith based organisations are strongly embedded in our communities.

Having lived in the UK for the last 17 years, I am also aware of the pain and suffering caused by “faith divisions”. I am aware that there is still a lot to do, however we can’t give in; in spite of “doom and gloom”, there are already plenty of signs of improvement. The most significant? For me it would be Pope Francis visiting Sweden for the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. Yes, it is important to acknowledge that from the 16th century, Catholics were persecuted and even put to death in Sweden. Six years after the Second World War, Catholics were barred from becoming doctors, teachers and nurses, and Catholic convents were banned until the 1970s. However, as Jo Cox once said; it is so important that we can work together instead of thinking about all of the differences that separate or divide us. Regardless of our “faith status”, today, more than ever before, we are all called to be a witness of hope and reconciliation.

 

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and councillor for Handside ward, Welwyn Hatfield.

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5 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 19th Jan '22 - 6:03pm

    Thanks for this article. True diversity means not just celebrating people of faith as part of our communities, but also celebrating diversity within faith groups as well – all are part of our communities and make a contribution to society.

  • Richard Church 19th Jan '22 - 6:51pm

    Encouraging a greater understanding between people of differing beliefs is vital to creating a more tolerant and peaceful society. In doing so, please remember that over 50 % of the people of the UK no longer subscribe to any religious faith. Their views are worth understanding too. https://bsa.natcen.ac.uk/media/39293/1_bsa36_religion.pdf

  • John McHugo 20th Jan '22 - 9:32am

    Thanks for these very positive thoughts, Michael. Canon Richard Quinlan, my parish priest in Putney who is sadly no longer with us, was a member of Focolare, and all I heard about them was very impressive.

  • Francis David Jakema 20th Jan '22 - 10:00am

    Thanks Michal for commending the value of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It has been important to me since I met fellow Christians at university. Since then I have been pleased to come across the Focolare movement and have been inspired by the writings of Charles de Foucauld. As an Anglican myself, it was a particular joy to go to Taize, near Lyon, in 1997. The community their use their music brilliantly to overcome any barriers of language, in their desire to bring unity and understanding. I believe it was a popular place of pilgrimage for Poles during the communist period, encouraging them to witness other ways of doing politics! Let’s hope the desire for reconciliation continues to thrive within the Lib Dems, bearing witness to the value of all life in the eyes of God!

  • Suzanne Fletcher 20th Jan '22 - 11:50am

    thanks for posting, I had completely forgotten it was this week. Blame the pandemic for lack of the usual meeting to plan, and spacing meaning no plans for everyone coming together.
    The message is important, and I can still recall the first time I went to a Christian Unity Service in Harrogate over 50 years ago, and the emotion of everyone, yes everyone, joining in singing “Let all the earth from every corner sing…”.
    It hadn’t occurred to me that people of different denominations could actually meet together in a service. Not become the same, but allowed to have differences that were respected. “Let all the earth…” resonated with me, we were part of a world wide organisation. The seeds were sown. Probably the beginning of me being an internationalist.
    Years on the Churches in Harrogate, where we no longer live, are part of and have instigated many social projects for the good of all, and people of no faith are welcome. Working together more is achieved. We all know that now, but it would have been a revolutionary thought 50 years ago.
    The lesson in politics is that we don’t have to be the same as each other, and belong to the same organisation, but we can work on issues of joint concern.
    Interesting to see the reactions to a Mosque in Harrogate, where there is opposition from anon, but not the Christian Churches. Ecumenism is generally taken as what we do, and it is now developing into Interfaith

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