James Mercer reflects on the benefits of working together across theological boundaries
by James Mercer
Stephen Kuhrt's account of ‘Cricket reach[ing] the part that Theology never can’ is well told and wryly observed. Stephen is surely correct in his thesis that working together with others on a common endeavour promotes a unity that will always be elusive if a more individualistic or separatist project is preferred. The dynamic of an effective team equates the success or failure of an individual to the success or failure of the whole team. Tragically, of course, a team can be seriously compromised by an individual not rooting for his or her team mates. The English cricket team has to its cost suffered something of the painful dynamic of James 3:16 this summer.
Can anything good come out of Harrow?
Harrow has an unexceptionable mix of churches - Anglicans embracing the varied nuances of evangelical and liberal catholic traditions, together with Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, and Roman Catholic congregations. And yet, across this rainbow range of theologies and practice there has emerged an exceptional unity of purpose. Every week the leaders (lay and ordained) of nine churches in Wealdstone, Harrow Weald and Stanmore, meet to pray together and enjoy the fellowship of a monthly meal. This bond of fellowship has emerged from a common commitment to explore and discern the task of mission, for the good of the community of which all the churches are an integral part.
The impact of being involved in a common endeavour
The focus on mission is the team challenge that transcends difference. Strongly held and varied theological perspectives exist, but are subsumed in the greater shared and commonly agreed task of cheerfully and creatively announcing the kingdom of God in a London Borough with the richest multi-ethnic and cultural mix in the UK. The fruit of common endeavour to date include, the initiation of Harrow Street Pastors (launched with a fanfare of worship and celebration in Harrow Civic Centre) and a winter night shelter (both projects planned in partnership with another mixed ecumenical team of Harrow churches, the latter being the lead champion of the shelter). A food bank is in the early stages of being organised to serve the increasing numbers of individuals and families facing real hardship in the current political/economic climate. A Forest School operates on a church campus to work with young people at risk of failure or exclusion from local schools and plans are underway to establish a SPEAR project, working to enable unemployed 16 to 24 year olds to gain life skills, motivation and qualifications that will equip them for work.
The place of communication and celebration
Enjoying each other’s company, sharing meals, praying and worshipping together and respecting shared commitment to transforming our community, whilst recognising sometimes divergent theologies, but daring to celebrate difference, has contributed to trust and a genuine inter-church unity. Indeed the nine churches have agreed that any one church's success is a success for the churches together. Unity of purpose, the task of mission as community transformation, cheerfully and creatively announcing the kingdom of God, transcends division.
'...[S]eek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in it's welfare you will find your welfare' Jeremiah 29:7.
Indeed, something good can come out of Harrow when shared mission reaches the parts that Theology (alone) never can. As with the victorious team in the Church Times Cricket Cup competition, unity of purpose triumphs over individual agendas.
James Mercer is Vicar of All Saints, Harrow Weald and a member of the Fulcrum Leadership Team.
James Mercer is the Vicar of All Saints’, Harrow Weald in the Willesden Area of the Diocese of London. He has been chair of trustees and co-founder of a ‘drop in’ cafe serving disadvantaged young people in a city centre and the founder of a Forest School working with marginalised young people in West London.