24 February 2017
60 seconds with... Graham Hutchinson
Graham has been the pastor at York Elim since 1999. He is also the co-chair of One Voice York, a York-wide organisation that unifies church leaders and ministries, and a member of the Evangelical Alliance's Council. Alexandra Davis spent 60 seconds with the leader to find out more about his unity projects, and why he thinks they're so important.
Why is Church unity important?
Church unity is important because in challenging times we are stronger together. But perhaps we should see it from a different and a better perspective: instead of starting with our need we should start with what God wants, and what He has revealed He wants through the scriptures. In John's gospel we can read the words of Jesus as he prayed for the unity of his followers and later, the Apostle Paul communicated the revelation he had received about the unity of believers as the Church, the "body of Christ". I don't think we need to work at unity so much as we need to avoid violating the unity that is already granted to us by the prayers of Jesus and that wonder that we call the Church.
What made you want to work on unity issues?
When I thought about working on unity I realised it was not really a conscious decision I had made, but looking back over the many years I have been a church leader, I see a pattern in my behaviour that was not particularly thought-through at the time. Each time I was stationed at a new location as a church leader I started praying for the work of God in that whole town or city. It never occurred to me to just think about my own congregation or fellowship, my "small corner".
From when I first became a pastor I sought out others in similar positions to mine who would be willing to pray alongside me. In the early years of my ministry in the 1980s I was aware that this sort of behaviour was not something I saw modelled by those older than me, but I somehow believed it was a biblical and a grown-up way to behave. By the time I arrived at York it was something that I believed in and had practised.
What does your local church community do to encourage unity?
Our local church community in York encourages unity by praying together. A small group of us committed together in the summer of 1999 that we would meet weekly for one hour to pray for our city. It began with just a few, but more quickly joined in. It wasn't long before we were putting out 40 chairs ready for the others to arrive. We made it known that it was for leaders of churches and leaders of Christian ministries and charities. The feedback from many is that from those small beginnings the gathering not only grew in number, but became a place of supportive and encouraging friendships.
What are some of your highlights from your work on Church unity?
We have worked together on various short-term missions and long-term projects and our annual open-air Easter baptisms with Archbishop of York, the Most Rev John Sentamu, have been popular. But to me the highlight is still the weekly prayer meeting. God is still getting us out of bed early in the morning each week to meet together and to meet with Him.
What would you say to Christians and church leaders looking to grow unity in their communities?
To Christians and church leaders looking to grow unity in their communities I would say grow up and stop competing! I have long ceased to be surprised at just how petty and insecure some church leaders can be. I have declared to startled groups of leaders that I don't believe that the church in a town, village or city is an apple pie: some church leaders feel envy or fear when another church seems to do well, but I have seen the recognition in their faces as I have then declared to them that the faithless thought that rises in the human heart is that if someone else seems to be doing better, then they are getting a bigger slice of the apple pie, which means everyone else is left with less. There is no apple pie! There a world to win, and so many are lost. We should be honest about the challenges and disappointments we all face. Our common desperation to see the kingdom should pull us together.
What do you hope for Church unity in 2017 and beyond?
I have great hope for Church unity. To be exact it's more of an expectation than a vague hope. Put inelegantly, I think God is up to something! Though individuals have stepped up to the plate and committed to work in unity with their brothers and sisters, I still see it as something God is doing in our day. This is a phenomenon of our time that has never before been seen in the history of the Church. It's only a few hundred years ago that Christians were killing each other over conflicts about doctrine, yet now we seen a global movement of gatherings of God's people of various traditions and doctrinal positions setting aside differences in order so pray for their lost communities. We should note that many of these unity groups seemed to emerge apparently spontaneously at about the same time, give or take a few years. I don't know what to expect for 2017 and beyond, but I think it's going to be a great adventure. God is up to something!
If you're passionate about unity in the place in which you live, do join us at Movement Day UK, 6-7 October 2017 at Methodist Central Hall, London. To book, visit movementday.uk