Becoming ‘agents of reconciliation’
By Rt Revd Martyn Snow, Bishop of Leicester
Here in the Church of England Diocese of Leicester (a “rural diocese with urban heartlands”), we’ve adopted ‘reconciling communities’ as one of our strategic priorities. It sits alongside our four other priorities: new communities (fresh expressions of church); intercultural communities; intergenerational communities and eco communities. But this one focuses in particular on the divisions which exist not just in our world but also in our church, and it is intended to make it clear that reconciliation is core to God’s mission in this world.
Perhaps the most vivid description of this in the New Testament is the Pentecost story. When the Holy Spirit came on those first disciples, they were suddenly able to speak the different languages of the people around about them. This, then, is a picture of what it means to translate the good news of Jesus Christ into the language and culture of the many different people groups of the world. It is intended to be an image of overcoming the barriers to communication and to understanding within this world. And we go on to see that worked out in other ways through the rest of the book of Acts.
For Christians, this means being willing to have good conversations with one another across our differences. Being willing to listen to one another – and by that, I mean a deep listening, not just listening in order that I can then argue with what somebody is saying. But a listening which is willing to take on board what somebody else is saying and allow their words to really take root within me, such that, even though I may not then agree with what they say, nevertheless I can disagree with love and with understanding.
That requires brave conversations as well as good conversations. Being willing to talk about the stuff which we know is not easy to talk about. Being willing to talk about the stuff which we know is sensitive, which people can easily get worked up about and people can easily get hurt by as well. But we need to be brave in having those conversations as long as they’re done with love and understanding. It means facing up to our fears and our prejudices. It means being honest about the fact that every one of us can be guilty of hypocrisy, saying one thing and doing something different.
But it’s only as we in the church practice these things and develop these skills that we can then be agents of reconciliation within the wider world. And we know we live in a society which is bitterly divided in all sorts of different ways.
So part of our work and our calling as a church is indeed to be people of reconciliation, to invite others to be reconciled with God but then also reconciled with one another. The two elements sit together, just as Jesus summarised the law as love of God and of neighbour. This then, has always been core to our faith, but now, more than ever, we need to make it a priority to learn how to be agents of reconciliation.