Minister’s Letter

A Pastoral Letter from our Minister – Rev. Peter Sharpadvent candles 1


At heart I’m a nonconformist, a Congregationalist who believes all are equal under God. Yet I prepared for ministry at an ecumenical college, and I believe that each tradition offers something to relish. Five hundred years from Martin Luther and the Reformation in Europe we are who we are. however, we should tread gently. Reading the Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool’s piece on the ‘tragedy’ of Reformation, his anguish is palpable, “The Reformation pulled the Body of Christ , just as our martyrs, both Protestant and Catholic, word “tragedy were pulled apart on the rack.” So perhaps Luther’s anniversary offers the chance to put the Body of Christ back together again.

At my Induction last January, I said that ministers cannot mend broken people in their own strength; but we can re-member one another before God. Of course, the Reformation is not the only culprit in the history of Christian fall-out. The eleventh century brought a long stewing schism to a head, one which had been festering since the days of the Early Church Fathers. Where great minds had invested such energy in understanding the nature of God the Holy Trinity, a single Latin word filioque split the Church on an East/West faultline. The Archbishop’s word ‘tragedy’ is the only word for it. Wisdom doesn’t always belong with the great and the good, I doubt filioque meant much to Caedmon the herdsman of Whitby, yet his understanding of God’s goodness is legendary.

Five hundred years after  Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door at Wittenburg, have we learned anything? The Eucharist still divides us, though we believe it crucial to our unity. As I write, a Christian Prime Minister is toying with a liaison here the price of government will be allowing the Old Orange marching season to resume, revisiting the hatred of yesteryear. Always it is the humble and meek who suffer for our folly. three little boys were fire-bombed at home nineteen years ago;  they couldn’t remember nineteen ninety  let alone sixteen-ninety; and still the Loyalists quote Luther’s dictum “Here I stand I can do no other” as though it were a talisman protecting faith against all evil.

As a Nonconformist I believe that God might use a differing conviction to show us further truth. Today’s broken world reminds me that, if ever we are to re-member one another before God, then we shall need to learn to rejoice in what others bring to the table. The reformation happened for a variety of reasons, not least King Henry VIII’s marital arrangements and the invention of the printing press. Pray that this year’s commemorations might draw folk together. Our world could use some healing.

Your friend and minister,