Most chaplains are probably aware that the week of prayer for Christian unity begins on 18 January (the feast of the Confession of St. Peter) and ends on 25 January (the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul). I have always found it interesting that this week of prayer is set between Peter & Paul since these two pillars of the earliest Christian community did not get along all that well. They argued over the proper way for Gentiles to enter the Church, who could eat with whom, and other issues, agreeing to go their own way and let time sort it out. In the 37 years I served in Episcopal Church leadership, I found that people within a single denomination can have terribly divisive fights over terribly important issues. The idea of “Christian unity” seems very foreign to our experience, and yet devoutly to be prayed for.
In the 23 years I served as an Air Force Chaplain, I discovered that Christians (and Jews) can work together for a common concern, respect each other’s differences, and even support and honor those who completely disagree on one or more issues of faith and doctrine. In the complex world of 21st century religious pluralism, the chaplaincy of the United States has a lot to bring to the table when it comes to developing a civil society where people who love God in vastly different ways can not only coexist but work together for the common good.
One hope I have for the MCA in the next few years is that we, especially retired and former chaplains, can work with civilian congregations and civic organizations to broaden our perspective, deepen our respect, and strengthen this nation to always be a land of free exercise and expression when it comes to matters of faith and religion. The specifics of how we believe are not nearly as important as the One in whom we believe. And may that One give us the wisdom and strength to love, guide, and care for His people.