June 2012

Problem or Solution?

Every year, many of the ministers of the Eastern Synod of the United Reformed Church meet together for almost a week at Spring School. Normally we get to hear a speaker or two on (hopefully!) relevant topics that either remind us of what we should know (and may have forgotten) or introduce new themes in the latest in biblical, pastoral or practical theology.

Every now and then Spring School is held in a slightly more exotic location than we had a few years back – a conference centre in an industrial area of Northampton. This year, fortunately, we travelled to Corrymeela on the North Coast of Northern Island.

Rather than looking at theories of church development or the latest in academic research into the book of Nebuchadnezzar, this year’s underlying theme was the ‘Troubles’ and the Christian churches complicity and response to them.

The location was excellent, overlooking the sea with Scotland in the far distance, and Corrymeela itself founded 40 years ago as a Christian but neutral meeting place in the effort to reconcile the opposing communities.

Of the many impressions and memories I had of the conference, one that stood out was the almost universal acknowledgment that the institutional church on both sides of the divide was largely absent in being a positive catalyst for change. Individual Christians did stand up to be counted, sometimes with horrific results for them or their families, but the denominations where frequently reticent to challenge their own core community’s attitudes, apart from condemning the latest atrocity.

Part of the problem seemed to be that both communities became so fearful of the other side and the real and perceived injustices both historical and contemporary that the church became captive to the same fears. For me, it begs the question of how much we reflect the values of our society and how much we allow God’s spirit to challenge us and change us.

It says in Philippians 2:3-5 (NIV)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…

What really challenged me were the people who allowed the ‘mindset of Christ’ to be so real to them that they became part of the new solution to old strife. It was only a few years ago that Northern Island seemed to be an impossible situation, but now there is real possibility of lasting peace.

Perhaps God can transform each of us as we allow Christ to dwell in us. Then we can be part of the solution to the problems of life and our society. May you too have the mindset of Christ.

June 2012