By Christopher Wells

Approaching the end of this strange year, it has felt momentous to us at TLC to plan boldly for the future, as we have done in Strategic Plan 2020. Shepherded to completion by our board and enthusiastically endorsed by our foundation of 43 international Anglican leaders, the plan sets out clearly and, we hope, compellingly, a detailed agenda for our ministry over the next five years. It is built upon three primary objectives: (1) to expand our global reach as a publisher and as a movement; (2) to expand the teaching resources that we offer; and (3) to strengthen parish ministry. These objectives mutually reinforce one another, since our publications and events are offered to the whole Church, at home and abroad, to support leaders at all levels and to enable faithful catechesis and mission.

Five years is a long time in the Church these days amid so much rapid change — decline and growth (see Luke 19:26), set within a rapidly evolving technological culture, steady urbanization, shrinking middle class, widening ideological division, broad mistrust of institutions, and forgetfulness of the past, all of which the pandemic is accelerating. Grappling with such challenges, we have been grateful to rearticulate TLC’s longstanding commitment to serve the cause of unity. As we say in our mission statement: “Rooted in the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion, the Living Church Foundation seeks to champion the catholic and evangelical faith of the one Church and to hasten the visible unity of all Christians.”

Oneness, unity: the oldest call that may be found in Scripture, rooted in God’s singular identity, his simple being, offered to Moses: “I Am Who I Am” (Exod. 3:14). The Christian Church makes this faith its own as we confess God’s trinity. In Jesus’ own profession: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one” (Mark 12:29; cf. Deut. 6:4). On this basis, Jesus prays to the Father that his disciples likewise “may all be one: As you, Father, are in me and I am in you” (John 17:21). And he demonstrates by his death that God makes the Church one, by “breaking down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (Eph. 2:14).

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Left to our own devices, unity of spirit and purpose, expressed through care for one another — “having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil. 2:2) — remains out of reach. Who in the world, our nations, or our cities has the power to establish deep and lasting unity in service of truth, goodness, and beauty? Would-be united nations make declarations of universal human rights, setting out minimal expectations for dignity, but these still need to be taught and defended in a bid to cut off selfishness and curb corruption, all of which is only preparatory to actual flourishing. Again, relative comity of global powers may be seen in truces, scaled down defenses, and free-trade agreements, but these are adopted on grounds of national interest that function both as strategic means and all-too-exhaustive, diminished ends. In this and so many other ways, autonomy displaces communion. Sadly, we may be able to dream of no greater unity today — no more enduring institution or binding agent, capable of bridging distance and difference — than internet access for all, urged on by omnivorous markets. On the day that every human being on earth (per impossibile) stands on equal footing of communication and commerce, smart phone in hand, we still will not have asked, much less answered, the question of what we are made for, that is, what it means to think and speak in the first place. We will yet await direction, the purpose or call to mission, which we would “see and touch” (1 Jn. 1:1).

Our Holy Scriptures provide just such a vision, rooted in the experience of unity that St. Paul describes as a call to all people, both Jews and Gentiles, to “welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7). This call to unity subsists in God’s own faithfulness in his Son, who is the only moral actor capable of delivering the full faith and credit of catholic and apostolic truth that we long for, whether we know it or not. Here, at last, real universality in service of enacted dignity and persistent flourishing may be found. The proof is resurrection.

In place of assertion and bluff, God in Christ makes good on unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity by binding all who follow him to membership in his own body. Henceforth, his members are unable, Paul says, to refuse communion with one another, on pain of incoherence. Having consigned former alienations and hatreds to the dustbin of forgiveness, and having put on love, they — we — say to one another instead, I have need of you. For God has arranged “that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Cor. 12:25-26; cf. 12:21 and 1 Cor. 13). Offered to a world long since surrendered to division, such communion provides astonishing testimony to the power of God in history; truly, a new thing, demonstrable and visible: a miracle.

All of this may seem rather grand for a magazine, but that’s not what the founding editors of The Living Church thought when, in 1878, they published their first issue as an offering to a divided Episcopal Church, depleted by party strife. The vision of one Church alive in Christ and his Spirit, reconciled across denominations, struck them not simply as a desirable thing, but as a condition of coherence, and indeed obedience. Tapping into the bridge-building charisms of Anglicanism at its best, by which we speak bilingually as catholics and evangelicals, they threw themselves into the work of Church unity, alongside many similarly committed Episcopalians and Anglicans. Our greatest editor, F.C. Morehouse, a devout layman, edited and published The Living Church from 1900-1932 out of the offices of Morehouse Publishing Co. in Milwaukee. He served the Episcopal Church tirelessly, not least as a delegate to the first World Conference on Faith and Order in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1927. His son Clifford carried on the work for 20 more years before handing over the reins, serving in later life on the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church and as president of the House of Deputies of General Convention. (See his wonderful Layman Looks at the Church [Seabury, 1964], an entry in the Episcopal Book Club that year.)

We hope that our friends, readers, and supporters will read our strategic plan in the light of this venerable commitment of TLC and join with us in working for the visible unity of the body of Christ on earth, for which our Lord prayed. I believe that TLC’s resilience as a ministry, approaching 150 years, is attributable in large part to its having devoted itself to this sacred trust, given by God for the furtherance and defense of his Church. To serve unity is to honor God’s own heart. It is to place others first, and to refuse to accept divisions as inevitable or insuperable. To place unity at the front and center of a communications ministry is to say that truth about others will be a priority; that we will speak about them as if they were with us now, as the indispensable arm or leg of our own body that they in fact are.

We cannot think of more serious or difficult, nor more rewarding and ennobling, work. We find it to be as urgently needed now as ever. Starting at home, in our own church and communion, we venture out by dint of authenticity and obedience, recognizing that cooperation is the medium and means of the message itself. And we pray to be made faithful by the One who was and is and is to come: even our Lord Jesus Christ, whose name we confess with all our sisters and brothers, in every nook and cranny of Christendom. To them we are bound. With them we will be saved, by God’s grace.

On behalf of all the staff at TLC, and of our governing foundation, thank you for the honor and joy of serving you. We pray for the Lord’s strong hand on our work, guiding and equipping our service of the Anglican Communion and the Church Catholic as they make their way along the pilgrim path of repentance, reparation, and restored fullness in God’s good time.

Merry Christmas. May we all be one!

Dr. Christopher Wells is executive director and publisher of the Living Church Foundation.

About The Author

Dr. Christopher Wells is executive director and publisher of the Living Church Foundation.

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C R SEITZ

Church catholic or Church Catholic and how does God guide that? Anglicans are good at toggling. Even Rite 1 and Rite 2 do that. If non-Catholics want to pursue a Church Catholic it cannot happen without first-order attention to the Catholic Church that exists on the ground. Otherwise it seems like an idea, or abstraction, which is not what this essay assumes: a visible Catholic body. I fear Anglicans have so distorted the basic meaning of “catholic” that it has become something other than “universally accepted,” and instead, “diversity in one container.” That is, national entities “getting along” and “agreeing… Read more »