Our Church Cannot Move Forward Without Reconciliation

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On June 24th, we remember the birth of John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, and the one who baptised Jesus in the Jordan. He’s sometimes known as the “last of the prophets,” and John is what many of us think about when we hear the prophecy in Isaiah about the voice of one crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord—communicating to the larger world.

The Church needs to find ways to communicate its message so that it resonates with today’s audiences much as John was able to proclaim his message to the people of his time. We talk about this all the time when we say: How do we reach “those on the outside?” There’s no easy solution, but here’s a good place to start: reconciliation.

Our Church wastes a lot of time constantly switching from one new “solution” or “vision” to another. Few things in the Church are more frustrating than when a new plan is made and only a few months later abandoned, having accomplished very little (except for making us tired and poorer).

Like John the Baptist, in today’s world the Gospel often faces hostility and indifference. A lot of that is born from the wrongs that we as the Church have committed in the past. The Church must begin with sincere apologies for past wrongs of course, but that’s not enough. More importantly, we need to move toward reconciliation.

Reconciliation is the putting right of relationships—the restoration of trust after the conflict and hurt of the past. It is absolutely necessary in order to move forward in the life of the Church, just as much as it is when we experience conflict and divisions in our personal relationships. It needs humility, empathy, and a willingness to actively listen to the other party’s perspective. The act of reconciliation can bring peace, and is 100% needed if we want to build a strong healthy Church.

When we in Canada speak of reconciliation lately, the societal wrongs that settlers have carried out against the Indigenous peoples spring immediately to mind, and so they should. But that is only one part of this conversation. There are many groups with whom we need to seek reconciliation, including members of the LGBTQ+ community, people of other faiths, and people of different ethnicities, just to name a few. We still carry prejudices—they still carry pain.

Within the Church, there has been mutual distrust and dismissal of those who differ in their liturgical preferences. The way that you pray, and the liturgical expression that best suits you is as personal as the way that you take your coffee or tea. None are “right” or “wrong,” and learning to give each other space to worship as we feel called should not be questioned or belittled. Variety is the spice of life.

Just as John the Baptist called for repentance and a turning away from harmful ways of living, reconciliation also requires acknowledging and addressing past wrongs in order to move forward. John the Baptist’s message was one of forgiveness and the opportunity for redemption, and the act of reconciliation involves this same willingness to forgive and heal past hurts. 

John the Baptist also emphasized the importance of humility, recognizing that he was not the centre of the story, but rather a messenger for a greater purpose. Similarly, reconciliation requires humility and a willingness to listen to the other person’s perspective, to acknowledge our own role in the conflict or harm that’s been caused, and to work towards a resolution that benefits both parties. Let’s start with that, and not immediately make plans that are too broad and complicated.

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