That They May Be One
by Craig Higgins, Resident Theologian
Just before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed for us, and he prayed for something specifically: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23). Jesus prayed that we, his followers, might be one so that the world may know the Good News.
One of the things that I love about camp is that—at Camp Brookwoods, Deer Run, and Moose River Outpost—we work very hard to practice the unity for which Jesus prayed. And we do this so that campers and their families might hear—sometimes for the first time, sometimes in a deeper way—the Good News, the gospel.
Another thing I love about camp is that, for several years now, I have had the privilege of helping with “Staff Week” (which is actually the better part of two weeks) by teaching the amazing people that God raises up to serve as our summer staff. This is—year after year—a group of young men and women who love Jesus, love camp, and love campers.
But this group is very inter-denominational, representing just about every denominational affiliation that you can think of! And one of the points I stress to them is that while we are an explicitly Christian camp we are also a broadly Christian camp. We stress the importance of not dwelling on those things that separate us as Christians but on what we have in common—and that those truths we hold in common—the Trinity, the Incarnation, the atoning work of Christ—are, in fact, the most important truths! We emphasize that “the main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing,” and that the main thing is Jesus and the gospel.
This ecumenical emphasis can be life-changing. First of all, I’ve seen staff discover that the Body of Christ is larger than they realize, that Christians of other denominations are truly their sisters and brothers in the Lord. And the campers discover that, whatever their church background (or none), they are loved and welcomed.
Camp is a beautiful example of Christian unity in practice! But, of course, this doesn’t make our “unhappy divisions” (in the words of the Book of Common Prayer) go away. What can all of us—in our homes and home churches—do for Christian unity? Here are three things:
First, recognize the unity of the church. Remember that what (Who!) unites us is more important that what divides us.
Second, pray—daily!—for the unity and reunion of the Body of Christ.
Last, fellowship! I am a member of a Christian organization (comprised of Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and just about everyone else) in which we all commit, at least monthly, to working/talking with Christians from outside our immediate faith community. Building inter-denominational friendships is a great way to recognize our unity and to be reminded to pray for it. Plus, it’s fun!
And if you want to see a good example of genuine ecumenism—genuine Christian love across the sad divisions of the church—come to one of our camps. Here, we believe in the unity of the Church and we do our best to practice it every day!
Dr. Craig Higgins is the founding and senior pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in the Westchester suburbs of New York City. Whenever possible, however, he is at camp, where his nametag reads “Resident Theologian.” His wife, Ann, serves year-round as camp’s Director of Development. They have three young adult children, all three of whom were campers, and all have been either LDPs, on staff, or both. You can find him on email, firstname.lastname@example.org