Bishop Paul Hendricks, auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Southwark and chairman of Churches Together in South London, preached at a service held at the newly built Baptist church in New Malden in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
There has been a strong ecumenical relationship between the local Baptist and Catholic communities. While their church was being rebuilt St Joseph’s Catholic church welcomed the Baptists’ Mothers and Toddlers group to its pastoral centre and Baptist services were held at Holy Cross Convent’s school hall. It was the first time Bishop Hendricks had preached in a Baptist church. He was welcomed by the Rev Johnny Pozzo, the minister, and shown the new premises. At the end of the service the bishop and the minister gave a joint blessing.
Readers from different local churches read Scripture readings and dramatised texts prepared for Churches Together in Britain and Ireland by the Polish churches on the theme of “We will all be changed”.
Bishop Hendricks said that the service reminded us that there are many ways in which we are changed by our Christian experience. He said that he found dialogue with other Christian communities very stimulating, and we needed to look on what we learn from other churches in terms of “as well as”, rather than “instead of”. It enriched his faith, he said, to learn from other churches and challenged him to rethink his own attitudes and beliefs.
“This is what motivates me: not only my hope that one day we will be visibly united, but also that here and now I have the opportunity to grow in my own understanding, with the help of my brothers and sisters from the other Christian traditions,” he said.
“So I don’t think we have anything to be afraid of, in accepting that ‘We shall all be changed’. My experience of other churches does challenge me to re-think my own attitudes and beliefs – but this is not a threat. It actually enriches my own faith.”
Afterwards, the bishop chatted to members of the congregation over refreshments before going to visit the local ecumenical night shelter that opened that evening at St Joseph’s Catholic church, in conjunction with Kingston Churches’ Action on Homelessness.
Parish priest Fr Peter Edwards said that the bishop was very impressed and sat chatting with the homeless men and women, who included a Muslim man, as they finished their supper.