5. A church praying and working for unity

The Church has always been a very diverse community and there have
been debates, arguments and divisions since the beginning. You only have
to read the New Testament to see that there never was a golden age when
perfect peace reigned among and between Christians! However there have
been some major divisions in the Church which have caused great pain and
damage, not only to the witness of the Church, but to its very life. Near
the end of the first millennium the Church separated into East and West
(not quite, but almost, equivalent to the churches we would now describe
as Orthodox and Roman Catholic). The Reformation period led to further
separations among the churches (and there have been more since!) and these
divisions have been a great sadness to many over the centuries. The United
Reformed Church believes that the Church is one, and that the unity which
God gives us should be real and evident among us, there for all to see.
The fragmentation and disunity of the Church is a terrible contradiction
of the Gospel of God’s reconciling love. We believe that it is God’s purpose
that the Church should be in visible unity and also that God will’s to bring
the whole creation into a harmonious and flourishing peace. This is why the
‘United’ part of our title is also important and significant. We can celebrate
that in 1972 (and then in 1981 and 2000), those formerly separated have come
into union. The United Reformed Church has, as part of its very reason
for being, a giving of itself in prayer and work for the visible unity of the
We recognise that the unity of the Church may not come about in the way
we first envisaged (through national institutional union), but we remain
committed to seeking ways to deepen and express the unity which Christ is
bringing to his Church. So, we are involved in many local unity projects, we
are thoroughly committed to dialogue with other Christian traditions and
churches, we are always present and active in international and national
ecumenical work, and we are committed to finding ways to bridge new
divides which cut across even single denominations or local churches (like
the so-called evangelical/liberal divide). This strong commitment to unity
seems particularly striking in us now, when ecumenism is at something of a
low ebb, after the high tide of the 1960s. It may be that we have a particular
vocation in this, though it is proving testing to work out how to live it. For
the United Reformed Church, prayer for the unity of the church is very much
at the heart of what it means for us to be the church. In a world which is

finding it hard to know how to live with so much ‘difference’, a community so
committed to building unity and peace has a significant mission.