My wife Penny is the knitter in our family. She sits on the living room couch or in the family room, knitting together strands of wool, gathered during our travels to islands off Scotland’s west coast. The yarn, spooled in separate skeins, is creamy white, sky blue, sea green. Apart, the strands are of limited beauty and even less use. But when combined, they become a work of warmth and beauty and a reminder of happy times on those Hebridean isles.
Strands of wool are better together than apart. And so are people.
Springfield is made up of many strands — ones of ethnicity, culture and language, political opinions, religions and denominational affiliations. These differences, unless treated civilly and respectfully, can cause enmity, division and worse. Consider today’s toxic political culture. Instead of coming together for the common good, Americans are moving farther apart to the polarities of left or right. And too many of us look at people with whom we disagree as enemies, not as fellow citizens or as members of God’s one human family.
And yet, I am hopeful that one day, weary of division, we will see that we are better together than apart, that concord is preferable to discord, and we will begin to act accordingly. I pray that day comes soon.
The Holy Scriptures remind me that God creates us for unity in community. In Genesis, God sees that the first human being is incomplete. The creator says that it is not good for the man to be alone. God makes Eve, Adam’s partner and companion. When God knits these two strands of life together, they are whole.
God calls us into a relationship with one another. As a pastor, I know relationships are difficult. Like every living thing, they require steady attention to grow into what God intends. In marriage, for instance, two people from different backgrounds, with God’s help or grace, become one in body, mind and spirit. Their marriage bond deepens and strengthens as each one puts the welfare of the other ahead of his or her own. Two strands, these two separate people, become one in Holy Matrimony.
Unity in marriage and in larger communities is possible — real, even. When my family and I moved to Springfield from upstate New York, where winters were gray and snowy, I was immediately impressed by this community, where it felt as if the sun were always shining. I saw unity here. A diversity of groups — businesses, non-profits, colleges and universities, hospital systems, houses of worship — came together in the citywide Good Community effort. People united to make Springfield the best community it could be. And we still do.
More recently, when COVID-19 struck Springfield, leaders from the faith community and several other institutions formed the Have Faith Initiative. Like strands of wool, we came together in a partnership to care for our neighbors in need and to lessen the pandemic’s destructiveness. I saw the power of unity. And I still do.
Shortly after I retired as Rector of Christ Episcopal Church in September 2021, I again became active in the work of the Council of Churches of the Ozarks, previously having served on its Board of Directors. I am now chaplain to the council staff and to the people the council serves with and through, as well as a liaison to local congregations. I thank God for a new sense of purpose and source of meaning after 35 years of full-time service to Episcopal churches.
Member congregations of the council, along with its staff and volunteers work together to fulfill its mission, which is “to improve the quality of life in our region through compassionate service and outreach to our most vulnerable neighbors by doing together what can best be done together in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Through his life and ministry, Jesus showed humankind God’s boundless love, and Council of Churches carries on the work of Jesus through its programs — from sheltering homeless women, to feeding the hungry, to improving the math and reading skills of elementary school students, to aiding foster and adoptive children, to helping the elderly remain independent and in good health, and much more.
On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed to his Father for his followers, saying, May they be one as you and I are one. I believe he is still praying for all of us. Apart and alone, we are like strands of wool, but when we love our fellow human beings, even amid our differences, many of them passionately held, we become what God created us to be — whole, a community knit together from many parts. A work of beauty that delights our Creator. We are always going to be better together.