Lena Denis is our guest blogger this week. She is a local librarian and information professional. Lena inspired young people at her parish to come out to BostonServe with us on May 6th. Read the story below to hear more about Lena’s heart for Christian unity!
When people ask me why I care so much about Christian unity, I often give a personal answer: because over the course of my faith journey, I’ve been in and out of many different kinds of churches. I’m Catholic, but I have ties to Evangelical ministries and I’ve been affiliated with mainline Protestant churches. For as long as I can remember, there hasn’t been only one Christian tradition for me to get to Jesus; it was always a multitude of Christian voices united in my life. For example, I could tap into the ancient traditions of Cappadocian church fathers’ meditation, similar to what we now consider Eastern meditative practices. I could also go to the contemporary worship service down the street and tap into praise music with beats that sounded like they came straight out of the club. Either way, Jesus was present, because according to His words in Matthew 18:20, Jesus is wherever two or more gather in His name. The adventure of finding Christ again and again, sometimes in a completely unfamiliar place, is the joy of the Christian life for me. Unity through diversity is key to my understanding of who I am as a Christian, and how I live the Gospel.
That’s the personal answer to why I care about Christian unity, but there’s a much shorter cut-and-dry answer: because the Bible says to. Scripture says that unity in diversity is what God’s people should aim for because it glorifies God and we accomplish more than when we work independently.
Take, for example, BostonServe on May 6, where churches came together to serve the city. Previous blog posts about that wonderful day show how our Boston-area churches, through their many spiritual gifts, had the opportunity to help a variety of populations ranging from refugees to the unhoused. Attention to all of God’s creation also meant that we cleaned streets and planted gardens. I handed out hot lunches to our brothers and sisters who spent their days on the street, and that alone required a variety of gifts: attention to detail in supply-gathering, packing lunch bags full of essentials like clean socks as well as food, cooking a meal for a large number of people, striking up a conversation and showing a stranger that you care, and the ability to listen deeply when someone wants to tell you their story.
Paul knew that this diverse functioning is us at our best. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 12 that, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work…Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” We are good at so many different things, both individually and corporately. We’re not supposed to be robots who all do the same task at the same time, because that would be sad and boring and not particularly effective, and it would erase all the beautiful diversity that God made us to be. If we take our diverse gifts and put them together, we are limitless in how we serve the world, which glorifies God.
Participating in BostonServe inspired me to help coordinate a “Reformation 500 Theology on Tapas” event at my church, St. Cecilia Parish. I invited Vito Nicastro (Catholic) and Scott Brill (Lutheran) from the Institute for Christian Unity to speak about their faith experiences and how are honoring ecumenical work and unity in this 500th year since Luther’s Reformation began. I was hopeful that the event would be fun and well-attended, and I couldn’t believe my eyes as the parish hall filled and filled and filled, until we ran out of chairs and had to start bringing them in from neighboring classrooms! People ate and had a great evening of thoughtful questions and some good laughs with our brilliant speakers. This was a tangible demonstration of our unity through diversity.
Long before the institutional church was born, King David knew that this kind of unity is what God desires. In the short and sweet Psalm 133, he sang,
How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.
These days, most of us wouldn’t be too happy with people pouring oil on our clothes, but when we remember the context of priestly consecration in the books of Exodus and Leviticus, it makes sense that this would be a happy image for David. When Aaron and his sons were consecrated with oil and the blood of sacrifice, service to God through these priests could begin.
Though the traditions have changed, our message is the same. When we all band together from our many traditions with our many strengths to live in unity, we are consecrated, and our service is holy. And for me, I can’t think of anything better to strive for.