The thing about coffee is that you need to know how to pick the beans. Damage the stem and you kill the plant. That’s what my wife, Johanna, tells me with grave sobriety. It was a lesson seared into her memory that she has repeated to me many times throughout our marriage. It was impressed upon her by the women she worked with in the fields near Tlacuilotepec.
She was a La Sallist missionary as a university student and tells me that the real mission journey always started with your hands in the cafetales, the coffee bushes. There she and the other university students, who had prepared for two academic semesters for the mission, labored- at first clumsily and increasingly with more agility- alongside the women and men and children of La Cueva and El Muneco.
Labor as Opportunity
The Texas Christian Scholar Network recently made NT Wright available as a speaker to our university. I was invited as a Connexion House staff member to share the table with him in between lectures and book signings. He dizzied everyone with his erudition. But he took a more practical approach to a question about Catholic-Anglican dialogue. Instead of talking abstractly about Pauline ecclesiology, he mentioned that the Pope and the Bishop of Canterbury had recently announced a joint commission to eradicate modern slavery.
“Cool,” I thought, “But random.” But Wright continued eloquently. The ends of the joint commission, he went on, though laudable were just as more important as the process of joint labor that was meant to create opportunities to work, strive, and pray together. This would build a more lasting legacy of unity than resolving to create it through a head on collision of doctrinal differences.
Starting Small, Very Small
One of our connexion houses recently disbanded after reaching impressively toward its eighth year of operation. A dozen Christian faithfuls walked its halls and sat at table in that time. But its story was a windy one. It’s a house that longed fervently to pray together, but never could. A doctrinal chasm (think Orthodox vs. charismatic traditions) created an impasse too large for the spiritual imagination and energy of its residents. That impasse begat further impasse. Sound familiar? A microclimate of church history.
Debriefing the members, it became evident that the most meaningful moments for the community were those shared in the “togetherness” of the mundane everyday-ness of life…making homebrew, fixing the chicken coop, building a table, inviting the neighbors to a community garage sale. While demonstrating that Christians can overcome spiritual division is an important ministry to those scrutinizing our work and lives, closing the gap between us in seemingly “things indifferent” (adiaphora) may just be the necessary right of passage.
The University Campus as Collaborative Laboratory
All this brings me to our ministry partnerships on the university campus that attempt to cross the borders of denominations and organizations. They are long shots. But despite clumsy starts, laboring together can create real opportunities to talk and learn and model the unity of the church, and more importantly, the unity of God’s purpose for humanity.
Archbishop Moxon, Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, drew it together eloquently referring to the newly announced Catholic-Anglican effort to eradicate modern slavery, “We will find that as we walk together on the pathway of Justice, that our talking together will improve, and on this Emmaus journey we will meet the risen Christ who falls in step between us. This Christ is not divided, so neither will we be.”
Joshua Gahr is the Executive Director of Connexion House, Inc., a ministry that plants Christ-centered discipleship houses for university students and young adults in Austin and Central Texas. If you or your students have thought about living together while you pursue your ministry and academic pursuits, see how we can help at www.connexionhouse.org .