Churches Together in the Merseyside Region Chair and Baptist Regional Minister, Rev Phil Jump, writes…
The churches of Merseyside have always shared a strong commitment to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Because our main corporate gathering tends to take place around the city’s two cathedrals at Pentecost, we usually mark the Octave through church leaders being available to support and preach at more local Churches Together gatherings.
This year, inspired by the call to “go and do likewise”, we were challenged to particularly consider how we better work together in practical ways that express the Good News of Jesus and seek the values and purposes of God’s Kingdom. The ecumenical movement was founded at a time in our shared history when deep divisions needed to be healed, relationships restored and a journey of prayer and shared understanding purposefully embraced. Thankfully many of those elements of reconciliation are taken for granted, hence a call to consider whether we have become content to merely “get on” rather than exploring our shared mission calling in a fractured, uncertain and unequal world.
As church leaders, we have to admit that our own busyness can sometimes be a barrier to such commitments. There is no lack of common desire and purpose to seek God’s Kingdom more effectively, but we often lack the capacity to pursue our aspirations. Hence the idea of bringing our wider teams together, putting faces to names that have often appeared on emails and memos. Our Week of Prayer for Christian Unity provided an ideal opportunity to build deeper and more integrated working relationships across our networks and denominations.
Around 40 people gathered at the Margaret Clitheroe Centre, home of our CTMR office, for a programme centred around a shared lunch – deliberately planned to simply provide space for conversations to start, working relationships to deepen and new ideas to spark. Various speakers offered “snapshot presentations” of practical on-the-ground initiatives made possible through ecumenical cooperation. This included stories from Together Liverpool, seeking to enable local church community action partnerships; the CTMR Social Justice Group, working ecumenically to support refugee and asylum seekers; the Skelmersdale Ecumenical Centre developing a thriving community centre and a beacon of hope through a new approach to ecumenical partnership; Hope Wirral, a growing mission partnership that emerged from the Hope 08 initiative; Diaspora LEP’s, recounting how churches from across cultures are forming effective partnerships, and the Gather Movement – exploring how churches can have a voice in the recently established mayoral Liverpool City Region.
URC Moderator, Rev Geoff Felton, picked up the Week of Prayer theme, drawing our attention to the actions of the Good Samaritan in binding up the wounds of a wounded stranger, and investing finance and trust in a possibly unknown innkeeper, to provide for a neighbour in need. Participants were invited to pray together as we considered the contemporary challenges that emerge from the Good Samaritan’s actions.
The event was brought to a conclusion through an act of shared prayer and commitment to unity led by the Bishop of Liverpool Rt Rev Dr John Perumbalath, but not before participants were challenged to write down at least one action they committed to taking as a result of being together. Initial responses from those who were present indicated that numerous conversations were started and contacts made that have potential to bear significant fruit in the months and years ahead.