We have reached the point on Tuesday nights in The Way when we spend most of our time reflecting on the various promises of the Baptismal Covenant. The Way is our class for adults who are considering being baptized into the church, looking to be confirmed or received into the Episcopal Church, or seeking to deepen their faith by reaffirming their baptismal promises. Each week, we spend time in prayer and Bible study while making our way through the basics of church doctrine, Anglican identity, spiritual practices, and the Christian life. The last unit of the course focuses on the five final questions of the baptismal covenant, the ones that end with, “I will with God’s help.”
This past week in The Way, Fr. Casey joined us to present his thoughts on the first of those final five: Will you continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers? By affirming that we will do those things, we commit ourselves to participating in the life of the church. But not just Transfiguration, not just The Episcopal Church, you are committing to becoming part of the community of faith that is much larger, the community which began on Pentecost and continues to the end of time. It’s a church that includes all baptized persons across the globe. It includes people who don’t worship like we do, don’t pray like we do, don’t think like we do.
While Anglicans have established certain identity markers that help us to define ourselves, we don’t believe that we constitute the entire church. We know that the church includes many others: Pentecostals, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Protestants. This is the one church. We say that the church is one because we all become part of the one body of Christ in baptism. We say that the one church is holy because it was established and is sustained by the Holy Spirit. We say that this one, holy church is also catholic because it adheres to a universal faith (with perhaps some variation here and there.) We say that this one, holy, catholic church is also apostolic because it is rooted in the mission and evangelism of the apostles and continues to send the faithful out into the world.
This week presents a wonderful opportunity to continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship. Having started on January 18, the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter, and continuing until January 25, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, we are currently in what is known as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. As you read this, Christians around the world are praying for one another in various ways. Some will hold special services that bring congregations of different denominations together. Others will simply add the unity of the church to their daily prayers. If you are invited to some ecumenical service, I hope you will attend. But if not, I would offer the following collect from the Prayer Book to add to your daily prayers:
Almighty Father, whose blessed Son before his passion prayed for his disciples that they might be one, as you and he are one: Grant that your Church, being bound together in love and obedience to you, may be united in one body by the one Spirit, that the world may believe in him whom you have sent, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The collect reminds us that we don’t appeal to the unity for unity’s sake. Rather, we pray for the unity of the church because the mission of the church depends on it. A church in union with itself is more equipped to fulfill its mission: to return all people to unity with God and each other.