How can we pray about unity at church?

QUESTION: How can we pray for unity in churches when some people really don’t want to change and some do?

tonyAnnette Dutenhoffer says: It’s great that we’re thinking about the how of church unity instead of the why bother?

Church work provides a wonderful opportunity for spiritual growth, to really buckle down and work things out.The goal isn’t to try to unite a bunch of human minds into one way of doing things, but to acknowledge the wholeness of Church as a spiritual idea in the one Mind, God. Remember that on the day of Pentecost, diverse people were gathered together from all over. Yet the Bible says that everyone heard the message of the Holy Spirit spoken in his or her own language. 1 You could say there was one message, but many ways of hearing it.

We glimpse the infinite nature of creation when we’re willing to respect the individuality, diversity, and creativity of each member, while working together on a common purpose. The definition of Church on page 583 of Science and Health defines this purpose. It says in part that Church affords proof of its utility, elevates the race, and rouses the dormant understanding. Such an infinite idea needs all of us to express it. No one needs to steamroll others, or to feel unimportant. We’re all equally needed.

After Jesus ascended, the disciples’ first order of business was to replace Judas Iscariot. The Bible says they prayed, acknowledged that God knew best, then they chose. They trusted God’s direction. 2 What a great example of the simplicity of church work!

Years ago, our membership auditioned two soloists. After much discussion and disagreement, we chose one and notified the candidates. We encountered many problems with the one we had chosen, from minor contract issues, to when the job would begin. Eventually, it all fell through. It seemed rude to call the other candidate after such a short time and tell her we had changed our minds, but she graciously accepted the job, saying she would have had to decline originally, due to a family emergency.

This is a good example of knowing that unity is a quality of Mind, and even if a decision needs to be changed in church work, we can still collectively move forward, realizing that the biggest blessing will prevail.

Annette is a Christian Science practitioner based in Longmont, Colorado.

What do YOU think? Add your comment below.

By Annette Dutenhoffer

Notes:

  1. Acts 2:6
  2. Acts 1:24-26

Comments

  1. Annette-D says:

    Hey everybody- Here’s a unifying passage to think about today.  :)

    “As an active portion of one stupendous whole, goodness identifies man with universal good. Thus may each member of this church rise above the oft-repeated inquiry, What am I? to the scientific response:  I am able to impart truth, health, and happiness, and this is my rock of salvation and my reason for existing.” Miscellany 165:16

    Recognizing God’s oneness, and realizing that no one is left out of it, goes a long way in seeing more unity in our lives.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re thinking about church unity, or unity in the workplace, or seeing more unity in your relationships, seeing everyone as part of one “stupendous whole” is a great place to start!

  2. margaret says:

    I love  all these comments. Each so  heartfelt and sincere and practical.  I’m re-reading Rolling Away the Stone by Stephen Gottschalk and find, in this 2nd reading, with others in our small reading circle, such strength and devotion from Mrs. Eddy’s early workers that suggestions of differences or disappointments with church format, or fellow members, etc., can best be handled by a phrase  Gottschalk uses about the work before them and us, “….being done under divine guidance…” even when some of the work might seem mundane, irrelevant or small. that phrase is a touchstone for me when at a meeting, working the RR, teaching SS, at a business meeting, or delivering literature……..am I doing this under divine guidance? Am I seeking divine guidance in seeing my fellow members .  thanks for these lovely and profound comments. So helpful.

    • Annette-D says:

      Thanks for that nice reminder, Margaret!   Yes, doing everything under divine guidance would really be unifying.

      Some of the details we talked about did seem mundane today, but when I consider that they’re all brought about and done with divine guidance, they take on greater importance.  That’s a great point!

  3. Annette-D says:

    Well, I’m off to our annual branch church business meeting this a.m.  Thinking about church unity this week has been a great preparation for this meeting.

    This a.m. I was thinking about this verse from the Bible, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matt 18:20

    I’ve always loved that verse because sometimes it seems like there are just 2 or 3 together, but this a.m. I can see that God, divine Love, is the most important attendee!  He’s the Unifier because we all express His completeness.

  4. Terry Reed says:

    Lyn: One important thing to remember is that unity is an attitude.  The early Christians were all in one accord.  That does not mean they agreed on everything…how could that many people ever agree on everything?!  But they did  have a unity of spirit.  At the small churches where I have pastored there have been many times that we did not all agree about what to do.  But we did all agree we would stand behind it whatever was decided.  Like one good deacon said: “If we have a vote to paint the sanctuary red, I’ll vote against it.  But if it passes I’ll show up with a paint brush ready to work.”  If you are at a spot where some want to change and some don’t, you are going to have to realize that you are only in the beginning faze of change, not the end.  Be patient and keep the good deacon’s words in mind.  God bless!Terry Reed

    Small Church Tools

  5. Annette-D says:

    About 7 or 8 years ago, our branch church sold our church building and moved into a storefront location.  It wasn’t a decision we made quickly, we had tried to make the 1913 building more up to date and accessible, but it would just cost too much to do it right.

    What I remember most about the night we voted to sell the building, was that one of the members said it wasn’t as important to her whether we sold or not, but that we all came to an agreement about it.  To her, in that moment, the unity of a decision was more important to her than the decision itself.

    I still think about that from time to time.  The unity of purpose is really what we’re looking for.  That’s not to say that we’re all going to want to do the same thing.  I like the phrase in hymn 176: “Living stones we, each in his place, may we be worthy such a grace…”  Each stone would have a different place.  Individually and collectively, we’re taking our place as healers in the world.  Some in prison ministries, some teaching Sunday school, some working a booth at a community event, some serving as reader in church services, etc.   For me, true church unity is respecting each member’s place as a living stone, even though it may be different than our own.

  6. Annette-D says:

    Yesterday, I re-read a letter that James Rome (an early worker) wrote to Mrs. Eddy after the building of the extension of The Mother Church in Boston.  In this case, he’s referring to putting up an actual building, but I like to think that we all are continuously building our churches.  We’re trying more and more each day to see the strength, permanence, and unity of “the structure of Truth and Love.”  If you guys haven’t read this letter, it’s not that long, and it’s definitely worth the read.  It’s in Miscellany on page 60:25.  Here’s an excerpt from it:

    “One feature about the work interested me.  I noticed that as soon as the workmen began to admit that the work could be done, everything seemed to move as by magic; the human mind was giving its consent.  This taught me that I should be willing to let God work.  I have often stood under the great dome, in the dark stillness of the night, and thought, ‘What cannot God do?’ (Science and Health, p. 135.)

    If we can apply that same “can-do” trust in God’s willingness to work in our churches today, I think the way will be clearer and easier.  At least less bogged down by feelings of lack, and disunity, and whatever else presents itself to us.

    The work can get done, no matter what the obstacle of the day is, as long as we give our mental consent that God is working!  :)

  7. Lyn says:

    There’s someone at church that I clash with.  It’s amazing how many things we disagree on.  We’re a small church so there’s no getting around working with him.  Have you ever had something like this?  How did you deal with it?  I hate that my church experience produces so much angst.

    • jenny says:

      Hi Lyn,

      Your question brought to mind an experience I had several years ago. I was teaching Sunday School at the time, and there was another SS teacher who just drove me CRAZY. The moment I would come into SS each week, she would be on me–yammering, asking questions about my lesson plans, jabbering about this and that. It felt like an assault. And it made me dread teaching SS.

      One Sunday, the same scenario played out as usual. But as I stood there, feeling my frustration escalate, the thought came to me: What’s the subject of your lesson this week? I was startled. I’d been planning on talking about Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself. But how could I do that–how could I teach that lesson–if I wasn’t putting it into practice in my own life?

      That was the turning point for me with this fellow church member. I realized that Jesus wouldn’t give us a command that we’re incapable of following. If he said we should love our neighbor, that must mean that we’re not only capable of loving, but that our neighbor is inherently lovable. And any voice that would argue anything to the contrary about our neighbor is nothing more than a lie–the devil, trying to distract us from what’s true about God and His creation.

      The funny thing is, as soon as I recognized that this fellow SS teacher was inherently lovable, I found all sorts of things about her to love. Today, I can’t even imagine feeling annoyed with her–all the junk has so evaporated. We are actually friends now, really and truly friends, and I’ve discovered many common interests that we have fun talking about.

      I’m not saying that every decision to love our neighbor will result in some great friendship, but I do know that whatever seems to stand in the way of us loving can certainly be removed. To me, that’s both the demand, and the beauty, of church!

      • Annette-D says:

        I love this example, Jenny!

        Yes, Lyn, I think anyone who has been involved w/ church work can relate to how you’re feeling.  I’ve had times of trying to deal w/ others in church by avoiding them, or feeling resentful, or walking around with hurt feelings, or feelings of inadequacy, all of which were not effective, as you can guess.  :)

        I wrote about an experience I had w/ a church member in the radical acts section of this site.  It’s in the feet washing section here: http://time4thinkers.com/18-wash-someones-feet/

        Jenny’s comment reminded me of this part of the experience:

        When I first joined our branch church, there were a lot of what you’d call “strong personalities” on the committees. One woman in particular was a real challenge for me. I’d go home from board meetings in tears.

        As the years went by, I didn’t deal with the situation very well, but just tried to avoid her when I could. It got to the point where her husband passed on, and she quit driving. Since I was the church member who lived closest to her, I picked her up for church twice a week. That sounds like a loving thing to do, but I did it with clenched teeth, dreading it the whole time.

        One day she called and I was so exasperated! I hung up, closed my eyes and thought, “God, please tell me what you see in her, because I don’t get it!” Before I could even finish the thought, I heard, “I delight in her!” I sat down right there where I was and let that sink in. It was so clear that the thought had come from God. In fact, when I think of it all these years later, it still moves me. I knew if God delighted in her, then I needed to love her a lot more than I was!

        Like Jenny, the willingness to see something of God in someone else, completely dispels the strife.  If we refuse to hook the angst, hard feelings, disunity on others, or ourselves, it simply has no identity.  We can see it for what it is, a distraction from our healing work.

        • Lyn says:

          I’ve tried the avoiding thing but it doesn’t work very well because we’re a small church.  Thanks for these great ideas and your example.

          • Bill W. says:

            Lyn, thanks for your honesty and effort here, this work is nurturing the tree’s (your church’s) growth even if fruit isn’t seen for a season. Christians of every period have probably faced the same types of challenges we’re facing today.  This example from an early Christian letter gives me encouragement and inspiration to keep working:

            4 And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. 5 In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. 8 The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins. 10 So, dear brothers and sisters,[c] work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. (2 Peter 1: 3-10, NLT)

      • Lyn says:

        You give me hope.  And I needed it.  :)

        • Annette-D says:

          When you think about it, there is more that unites us in our work for church, than what divides us.  Our love of God, of the Science of Christianity, of Christ Jesus’ example, of Mrs. Eddy’s contribution to the world, those are some of the things we have in common.  Those are pretty big!  :) It makes the clashes seem smaller in comparison.

          • jenny says:

            Yes, Annette! So true. I love your example, and this last idea–about all that unites us–made me think of one other church-related experience.

            Shortly after I joined my branch church, I was elected to the Board. And there was one woman on the Board with me who was just a very, very difficult personality. She was aggressive, spoke sharply. To be honest, I was kind of scared of her. Here I was, in my first branch church and first Board experience, and I was already starting to feel miserable.

            A few months in, I was house-sitting one week for some friends and the doorbell rang. When I answered it, it was a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was probably 10 degrees outside, but they were smiling and lovely and even though I said thanks-but-no-thanks to their ministry, when they left, I felt such a sense of UNITY with them. It was kind of overwhelming. Even though our faiths didn’t have a lot in common, I felt this sisterhood with them–of having a life devoted to Christ.

            As I was thinking about this, a very clear message came to me from God: “You have the same sisterhood with your fellow Board member.”

            It made me smile. Of course I did! In fact, we even shared the same religious beliefs, the same love for our branch church, the same desire to practice the Science of Christianity. All of a sudden, it didn’t seem hard to love her at all–I felt connected to her in the most profound and beautiful way.

            I know that church gives us ongoing opportunities to put these ideas into practice, and to see them more clearly. But I’m grateful for this thread for reminding me of the experiences I have had. I know these ideas apply to all of us!

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