Yesterday evening I went to my first Churches Together meeting. Nothing inherently exciting about that. Let me try again! Yesterday evening I went with a couple of other folk from my church to the local Churches Together meeting. So what?
As an English person that would be an obvious reaction, but in Scotland Baptist involvement in Churches Together is sporadic and, technically at least, unofficial. A Scottish Roman Catholic nun I knew once described the Scottish ecumenical scene as being like a park bench - if too many people get on, someone gets off. When the Catholics joined the Baptists left. Things have moved on since then, and at a grass roots level there is a good smattering of Baptist ecumenical involvement but so far the BUS has not rejoined ACTS.
So, we met in one of the local C of S churches and I discovered how things work around here.
The one key thing that we agreed on - after having to go to a show of hands at one point! - was to hold hustings for the upcoming General Election/Westminster Election (depending which sub-British nationality you claim to be!). It seemed a very long discussion, but in the end we opted for a Sunday evening hustings and an eve of election prayer gathering. Some were uneasy with a Sunday hustings, and asked what would become of the evening services (cancel them just this once....?) and others were unclear why we'd want to hold a prayer meeting on the eve of the election, but in the end we got there. And I think that what we have ended up choosing is a good model.
By holding the hustings on a Sunday evening and the prayer meeting on a week night we subvert everyone's expectations - it isn't the 'obvious' way round.
By advertising the events as Churches Together (by any other name) it sends a clear signal that we are on the same side in thinking this is an important public topic.
By holding the hustings in the premises of one tradition and the prayer meeting in that of another we show that this is not the initiative of any one Christian tradition or any one political opinion.
There seems to me something instinctively good that there is both a hustings and a prayer gathering. The former allows absolutely anyone to ask the various candidates their questions and for those of faith to be informed in their thinking and praying about their electoral choices. The latter allows absolutely anyone to pause on the night before the vote and consciously to bring to God the needs of the nation (i.e. UK in this case) and the work of parliament as well as their voting decisions. The reality is that we will all then go away and vote in different ways and worship in different traditions. At least we will remain united by a common belief that our believing and our behaving are inter-related and in that in some way our praying makes a difference.
To be in on the ACTS seems far more sensible than watching from the sidelines - but then as a thoroughbred-mongrel Christian I would say that wouldn't I?!