'Faith, Hope and Love are not the property of one denomination'

 The Bishop of Durham, Dr N. T. Wright, one of the Anglican Communion's leading Biblical scholars preached at solemn Evening prayer at the Metropolitan Cathedral & Basilica of St Chad, Birmingham, on the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, Apostle, Sunday 25 January, writes Peter Jennings.

Bishop Tom Wright and Bishop David Urquhart, the Anglican Bishop of Birmingham, were warmly welcomed by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Vice President of Bible Society, to the Mother Church of the Archdiocese of Birmingham.

Bishop Wright, who represented the world-wide Anglican Communion at the International Synod of Bishops - 'the Word of God in the life and mission
of the Church' - held in Rome during October 2008, preached on the theme: 'St Paul and the Ecumenical Task'.

Bishop Wright, President of Bible Society began: "It was an enormous privilege for me to attend the Synod of Bishops in Rome last October, as the official Anglican 'fraternal delegate'. I didn't realise until afterwards just what a privileged position it gave me: many of my Roman Catholic friends would love to have been able to sit in on the discussions on 'The Word of God', in the presence of Pope Benedict himself.

"One of the most exciting things I heard came early on, when one of the Synod Fathers declared that two of the basic signs and means of unity across the Christian denominations were 'baptism and the Bible'. Since then, there have been many discussions about how to read and study scripture together, to learn and grow towards unity in a new way. Studying Paul is obviously a key part of that."

Bishop Wright emphasised: "Tonight's reading from 1 Corinthians 15 summarizes not only the significance of Paul's conversion, but also the shape of his whole theology. First, it is a faith rooted in history, in actual events of the past: 'Christ died for our sins . . . was buried, and was raised on the third day'.

"As Pope Benedict emphasized during the Synod, we do not hold a form of Gnosticism, a 'faith' which is only about our own religious feelings, but one which is grounded in things that actually happened. That historically anchored faith is then, second, the ground of our hope: not a vague, disembodied 'heaven', but the solid 'new heavens and new earth', when all God's creation is rescued from corruption and death as Jesus' own body was.

"With that faith behind us, and that hope before us, Christian love takes its particular shape and gains its particular energy. When love looks at a world out of joint, it goes to work for justice; when it looks at a world full of ugliness, it goes to work for beauty. When the church is doing these things, it can speak powerfully of Jesus as the one who rescues and restores God's whole creation, and ourselves within it.

Bishop Wright concluded: "This faith, this hope and this love are not the property of one denomination. They are common to all Christians. My prayer in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is that we will rediscover this vision, and be able to work together, study together and pray together, as we are doing tonight, to find - perhaps to our own surprise - the new paths towards unity which God has in store for us."

Afterwards, Archbishop Vincent Nichols reflected the thoughts of the ecumenical congregation who packed St Chad's Cathedral: "This was a prayerful and inspiring way to close the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and mark the Year of Saint Paul."

The Archbishop of Birmingham added: "Bishop Tom Wright lead us in a fresh and wonderful way to the heart and foundations of St Paul's life and teaching."

Another Synod Father, Scripture Scholar, Bishop McGough, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, one of the two elected representations of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, was present on the sanctuary.

Also taking part in this deeply moving and memorable occasion was Bishop Philip Pargeter, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, Canon Pat Browne, Cathedral Dean and members of the Chapter of Canons.

The day also marked another significant anniversary in the road to Christian Unity. This day 50 years ago - 25 January 1959 - in the Basilica of St Paul's
Outside the Walls in Rome, Blessed John XXIII (then Pope John XXIII) made the historic announcement that he was to convene an ecumenical council. The Second Vatican Council was solemnly opened in St Peter's Basilica by Pope John XXIII in October 1962.

The Year of Saint Paul, that celebrates the two-thousandth anniversary of the birth of the Apostle to the Gentiles, was inaugurated by Pope Benedict XVI on 28 June 2008. It concludes on the Feast of St Peter and St Paul, 29 June 2009.

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