Sunday 4 August 2013
Over the past week I’ve visited four very different Christian gatherings. It’s been an experience that has left me humbled and hopeful.
Last Friday I was at Hillsong at the O2 arena in London, speaking to 8,000 people from a Pentecostal tradition. These people were full of love for Jesus Christ and commitment to service. The welcome was extraordinary; I had a great sense of being part of a family. The next day I was in Lincolnshire for HTB Focus. A very different style, and a powerful double commitment to evangelisation and social transformation, but again the core was love for Christ.
Then it was down to Somerset for a huge New Wine gathering. Despite being drenched by the rain, some 12,000 people welcomed the four of us with incredible warmth. The place was buzzing with optimism – boosted, I think, by the fact that it was such an ecumenical affair; a real rainbow of churches from Charismatic and Protestant traditions. During worship that evening, a striking number of people considering ordination stepped forward to be prayed for. Seeing people’s willingness to commit their lives afresh to the service of Jesus Christ and His church – and because of that to the world we live in – was a huge encouragement.
On Tuesday the journey continued. We travelled seven hours to reach the little Norfolk village of Walsingham. There we joined hundreds of young people on their annual pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, founded first in the 11th century. It was yet another totally different style. We began with a barefoot walk just over a mile from the Slipper Chapel to the Shrine for Benediction, where 800 people knelt in deep silence of worship. The next day was morning prayer, then Mass infused with elements of contemporary worship… but again, it was the profound sense of adoration of Christ that struck me most powerfully – and the desire to serve and follow Him.
I have to admit that during Mass and Benediction, my first thought was ‘What a contrast with the past few days.’ But my next thought was: ‘What’s the problem?’
In the Epistle to the Ephesians, we’re told that Christ broke down the barriers we put up as humans. People talk about ‘extremes’ in the church, and certainly this week has featured ‘both ends of the candle’, as it’s often put. But those ends are held together by Jesus Christ. We show the power of his barrier-breaking by our love for Him, and our desire to make Him known in deed and word. The many churches represented at the four events are deeply engaged in their communities. They serve without question, and welcome without qualification.
This week I’ve been encouraged and uplifted by all traditions. I’ve seen every sign of a hopeful, growing, active, serving, loving Church. So my last thought is this: when Christ is present, our differences break down.
Author: Justin Welby