Unlike rhubarb, unity cannot be forced. Unity is a living thing; it's relational, organic and fertilised by the sweeter attributes. This page develops some of the themes within the Ecumenical Matters section of this website.
When nurturing the development of close team working, cross-boundary relationships and unifying organisations, check for these signs:
* In Church unity, the Fruit of the Spirit will be seen throughout the unifying process to the exclusion of any other detractor; love being the key.
* Every conversation, communication and meeting sees the heavenly anointing being given away rather than simply being rejoiced over.
* All parties will long to come to the table, overwhelmed by a desire to meet the needs of every other person and group, and especially those on the outside, rather than their own desires.
* Openness will be the watermark in all matters; minutes of meetings reflect every aspect and view expressed. Beware brief ambiguous notes and 'a discussion followed'.
* The willingness to welcome others holds nothing back; those who declare themselves wanting to be part of the one body are happy to give away everything to the cause; some re-mortgage their homes and give the equity to the funds while others sell off all their possessions and throw their money into the pot.
* The executive leaders are ready and prepared to cover all the costs personally, even if it bankrupts them - the cause is more important than anything else.
* The zealous desire of all to make things work compels each and every member to do whatever is needed to make things work well, rather than force an issue or simply reach a compromise.
* All those who sign up for the cause, especially those applauding the vision and leaders and signing petitions or joining networking groups are, in so doing, agreeing to lay down their lives for the sake of the cause. This may also mean letting go of the cause itself if adhering to their beliefs causes any division at all.
On Church unity, Canon Jeff King outlined some key stages in the development of unity (full report available):
* Reconciled diversity: the preservation of distinctive gifts – reconciled with one another and taking counsel together.
* Unity in solidarity – not just in doctrine but also in the struggle against evil and justice
* A communion of communions: united but not absorbed with distinctive features
* Federal unity: A unity that maintains full autonomy
* Concilliar fellowship – holding fellowship together in councils and counsel
* Organic structure: A common structure dissolving different traditions. Not an impossible state but a lot of ground to be covered to get there.
When drawing up any formal declaration of unity, make sure all parties work through every implication. The fanfare which often accompanies the call to be One Church or complete unity disappoints the supporters if the level of unity is not clearly described. Those signing a petition or joining networking groups might think that they're all about to win the gold medal; the reality is just one or two steps along the path towards 'a communion of communions' (above). This may take some time...
Groups seeking to develop a united approach to working, key issues or relationships are easily recognised by the way they bring everyone along with them. The fruit of such movements has the taste of heaven for all. When folk start asking 'Whose side is everyone on?', the cause has already stalled or even died; rebuilding the foundations and trust amongst all parties then demands substantial investment in time, spiritual- and emotional-intelligence, humble skills and stamina - it may take many years to overcome false starts and broken horizons.
If this all seems too much, it may be worth considering alternatives. Take care before signing up to the cause if you feel unprepared to sell your possessions, fund every member in need and lay down your every wish and desire to follow the leader. Seek guidance and wisdom before signing or clicking!
Whatever we do, avoid jumping on a cause just because it sounds good, plausible or right. If it's made out to be very easy, sadly, here on earth, it's likely to be too good to be true. An aspiration is just that - a hope, a dream. It doesn't promise anything. Selling a dream is easy; working together demands far more than a click.
Remember how difficult it is for just two people to get on, let alone a dozen, a hundred, thousands or nations. Wish every one well, dial back to a sense of realism and improve and develop relationships so things move in the right direction. Jumping into bed with people we don't truly know because it looks attractive - without considering all the consequences - is never wise!