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Our Lamb has conquered; let us follow. The Moravian seal. Hallo again to all.

We suspect it's been a while since you read a happy church news headline. This is the nature of the headline beast: to draw in by shock, rather than by awe or joy or gentleness. As students, we learned the effectiveness of this 'pyramid' format in telling stories. One starts with the sharpest, pointiest end of everything, and explicates on down through details, any of which may be skipped by a reader in a rush. It is a measure of our cultural indebtedness to newspapers during the last two centuries that this mode of discourse has entered many disciplines—teaching, preaching, legal argument, medicine and sport all now share in the headline followed by pyramid model of conveying information.

If you have been reading only headlines this year, you will have missed two of the twenty-first century's most substantial pieces of Anglican good news.

The first story is from New Zealand, where Methodists and Anglicans have entered into a covenant relationship that may proceed to full ecclesiastical unity within our lifetime. The early history of Christianity in New Zealand is characterised by a level of competitiveness among denominations that would astonish most modern religious people. Anglicans and Methodists in particular excelled at mutual dislike, viewing one another's successes as enviable and regrettable. Recent decades have seen a softening of old boundaries, a re-examination of the substantial agreement across denominations, and a movement toward sincere cooperation in light of common faith and common goals. The newest step in this refreshing change of attitudes involves Māori and Pākehā churchfolk on equal footing as unity is built up across cultural and theological difference.

The second such story is as yet in potential form, set to be voted on by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church USA during its triennial meeting later this summer. It will almost certainly give legislative force to a formal process of growing together in sacramental fellowship by American Episcopalians and members of the Unitas Fratrum, known more commonly as Moravians. Both groups are today relatively small American churches with a history of occasional enmity; their commitment to a serious new look at what they hold in common can only bode well in this light. In this proposed full communion agreement, each group will maintain its own traditions and structural form in the near term even as ways to foster closer unity become matters of common policy.

Hearts warmed!Both movements toward church reunion are all the more meaningful for us as Anglicans because each goes some distance in righting old Anglican wrongs. The Wesleyan movement, born in the Church of England and intending always to live within it, found itself soon squeezed out and bereft of support. Moravians likewise looked to Anglicans without much success early in their modern history for affinity and encouragement. For reasons too complex to discuss here, Anglicans lost through inaction or wrong action the ability to benefit in an important historical moment from these powerful, heartful religious movements. This summer pulls our streams of faith gently back together where they might have always been, and the result will be stronger and richer church communities—hearts strangely warmed, perhaps, and some closer following of the Lamb.

It is possible to view such pieces of occasional good news, products though they are of honest deliberation over much time, as just flashes in the pan and sparks among the stubble. Neither will heal a major breach of Christian fellowship between East and West—or newer breaches between North and South. Neither will solve a deep niggling theological riddle that has wasted very much ink, paper, bile and energy outside of tiny groups of unusual people. But these stories of building-up communion will be good news nonetheless, bandaids on the skinned knees of the Body of Christ to aid its healing cut by cut. (It is worth noting, too, that similar agreements among Methodists, Moravians and Anglicans are already in force in the UK.) These movements toward connection, within relationship, creative and supportive of intentional love among those separated through geography and history, are essential as we

Tell of how the ascended Jesus
Formed a people for his own;
How a hundred men and women
Turned the known world upside down,
To its dark and furthest corners
By the Wind of Whitsun blown. (The New English Hymnal 142; Hymnal 1980 507, alt.)

Such good, substantial news reminds us that church history is ours to be made as well as studied, lived as well as learned. Dig past the headlines and snipelines; there's good news—and Good News—for those who do.

See you next week.


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Last updated: 7 June 2009

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