When I was eight years old we lived in a rural French village. The public school we went to still had (Catholic) religion class, and I distinctly remember in the first class it was announced that a few of us (myself included) would be going to the computer room during the time. In some cases it was because the parents didn’t want their kids in class. In my case, it was because I was ‘un protestant’. I didn’t know what that word meant, and didn’t speak French yet anyway, but I was horrified to be singled out and treated differently – I came home that day upset, and told my mom “They found out I’m a protester!”
For those of us who make up the minority denomination in our ecumenical environments, there can be a temptation to feel like the ‘other’ in some way. For me, while it hasn’t usually come to something like the story above, there is a more subtle way I experience this. I am often hyper-aware of how others are making ecumenical arrangements for us (even if they are actually being done willingly), and can feel like we’re a nuisance, an inconvenience; that things would just be easier for the majority if we weren’t here. I need to resist this – ecumenism is so important to me because in our environments (when they’re working well) our different traditions aren’t just tolerated and accommodated, but valued and cherished. My brothers and sisters from other traditions are just that: brothers and sisters. On that basis, and on the basis of our covenantal call, our life in community isn’t complete without each other.
It’s my joy to say that this really is my lived experience – of course there are mis-steps and unfortunate thoughtless moments, but the predominant experience is that this brotherhood is the primary foundation of our life together. And any adaptations or arrangements being made in support of this way of life are being done gladly, out of a deep, Spirit-inspired brotherly love. This allows me to engage this life – with all of its messiness – in freedom and without reservation.
I’m so grateful for this precious and unique gift. May the Lord sustain our conviction for this way of life, and bless us as we live together for him.
John is a family man, and part of the Word of Life community in Michigan