In John’s Gospel, during the last supper, Jesus prays that we would all be one, as he and his Father are one. As Jesus prays, he also explains why this unity is so important for us. As the world experiences Jesus’ followers as one, they also experience Jesus and his love more profoundly.
Not surprisingly, in the partial ways that Jesus’ prayer has been answered, we are able to see the love of God flowing out into the community. This love inevitably offers a witness, as well. When Christians come together to share God’s love, people always notice.
Christian Associates has been one organization praying and working for unity among all Christians in the valley. One of their efforts 30 years ago was beginning a food bank. Churches came together to share God’s love with those in need at a time when only the united efforts of area Christians could have effectively gotten a food bank off the ground. Now, three decades later, the Community Food Warehouse of Mercer County is helping thousands of people every month get enough to eat.
While no longer formally a religious organization, the warehouse works with hundreds of volunteers from a wide variety of area churches (as well as other men and women of good will) to feed the least of our brothers and sisters in ways that no single church could do on its own.
The community lunches held every Saturday at St. John’s is another example of area churches coming together. Five different churches serve lunch to about 150 people each week from all walks of life. In addition to being served a good sit-down meal, guests have an opportunity to build community with each other, have spiritual conversations and receive prayer for their needs to the degree they are interested. Through those interactions with Christians from different denominations, many people have felt God’s love in a new way and recognized God at work in their lives even as they receive a meal.
Some works of united Christians may be less obvious, but result in even more people in the area coming to a deeper faith and knowledge of God and his Son, Jesus Christ. A few years ago, a diverse gathering of Christians participated in Shenango Valley for Christ and spent one day each month praying in 11 different communities. As Christians came together as one, praying for local governments, schools, businesses, churches and media centers, we opened this area up for God’s work in ways we can never fully know.
Another organization, Operation Capital City, has taken intercessors from area churches to Mexico to pray with Christians of various backgrounds there. They have seen new churches and new believers as a result of those efforts.
Of course, for us to come together as one, we have to make sacrifices. We have to give up things that may be important to us so that we can carry out God’s mission together. We may be singing different songs when we are together than we usually do. We may worship in a different style. We may be partnering with people whose doctrines we don’t entirely agree with. We may even need to work together with churches that we have spent years defining ourselves against because of past conflicts. We may need to give money and not take the credit. We may need to give time and not be in charge. We may need to give our talent and learn a different way of doing things. We also may find as we do so that we are experiencing new things, growing in new ways, and coming to love new people.
Jesus prays for us to be one, and when we are willing to become one, God uses us. We don’t need to give up who we are, but we need to offer our gifts selflessly with great humility. As different churches offer their different gifts, we will find God using all of us together to make known his love and gospel in ways we could never have imagined by staying within our own churches. We’ll also find God’s work becoming much more effective, as well as much more fun.
Rev. Adam T. Trambley is rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Sharon.