Sometimes it seems we can’t all sit down together in unity around the table. Though the days between the saints days of Peter and Paul, 18th and 25th January, are set aside by the Churches for prayer for unity, the sadness for me is that we are not united. Christians are divided by beliefs and practices, by historical conflicts and present day differences about sexuality.
Unity, of course, does not mean that we all have to believe the same thing or worship in the same way. But I think it should mean that we respect and accept each other. Recently the divisions have been revealed in the empty chair when the Presidents of Churches Together in England meet.
There are six presidents representing the different strands of Christianity in this country. They each sign a Covenant which describes their commitment to each other and to the churches in England. They meet regularly and liaise on a wide variety of issues of common interest and concern. Their meetings are facilitated by Paul Goodliff, General Secretary of CTE. If you visit the CTE website you will see that one President is missing.
The other five are all men. The missing one is a woman, Hannah Brock Womack, an active Quaker, a young, radical peace activist, who campaigns against the arms trade and works in the voluntary sector, and who is in a same sex marriage. She was chosen to represent the Fourth Presidency group of churches. A statement on the website says,
“churches hold different views regarding human sexuality, and that for many this is a very emotive and painful subject… the Enabling Group, have recently requested the Fourth Presidency Group to refrain from enacting its Presidency at this time, leaving the Fourth Presidency as an ‘empty chair’ for the current term of office. This empty chair represents the lack of agreement within the churches in England regarding human sexuality, and the reality that this dimension of the churches’ pilgrimage together is not yet complete.“
Quakers, who regard everyone as equal in the sight of God, have expressed their distress at this lack of inclusivity. Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain said, “This is a deeply sad decision….As Quakers, we are called to answer that of God in everyone. We recognise the inherent worth of each person. That leads us to welcome all committed same-sex relationships as equally as committed opposite-sex relationships. We value equally all people, regardless of sexuality or other defining characteristics. These characteristics are not the right way to decide if someone is right to serve as our CTE President.”
The empty chair is there, not because someone does not want to be involved, but because they have been excluded. It is sad that we cannot sit down together round the table.