‘If we cannot as yet think alike in all things, at least we may love alike.’
When it comes to difficult conversations in Church or anywhere, many of us are so worried about what might happen that we shy away from even starting them. The trouble is that such genuine and honest encounter is the only way to deal with the issues that potentially divide us; avoidance is not an option.
Ground rules can be a helpful way of establishing some safer space where engagement might happen. And where better to go for advice on such rules than John Wesley himself? Both in his Sermon 39 and his Letter to a Roman Catholic, John Wesley eloquently commended the Catholic Spirit to all Methodists. The characteristics of the Catholic Spirit are:
‘Let us resolve, first, not to hurt one another’
‘secondly, … to speak nothing harsh or unkind to each other’
‘thirdly, … to harbour no unkindly thought, no unfriendly temper’
‘fourthly, endeavour to help each other on in whatever we are agreed leads to the Kingdom.’
‘Love me with the love that is long-suffering and kind; that is patient'
‘commend me to God in all thy prayers; wrestle with him in my behalf, that he would speedily correct what he sees amiss, and supply what is wanting in me.’
‘provoke me to love and to good works. Second thy prayer, as thou hast opportunity, by speaking to me, in love, whatsoever thou believest to be for my soul's health.’
‘Lastly, love me not in word only, but in deed and in truth.’
‘So far as in conscience thou canst (retaining still thy own opinions, and thy own manner of worshipping God), join with me in the work of God; and let us go on hand in hand.’
When we meet together to talk about hard things, might the Catholic Spirit help us to create an atmosphere of fellowship that our conferring together might be for the good of the whole Church?