When I was a child, my family lived very far from my grandparents. While we lived in Michigan, my father’s parents lived in New Jersey and my mother’s parents in Redlands, California. Contact with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins was limited.
Visiting either family was always a treat. But because my mother’s sister and brothers, of whom there were six—along with nearly 30 children—all lived in California, the visits to Redlands were my favorite. There was always one special evening when everyone, including Grandma and Grandpa, would gather at a local park for a grand picnic.
Those picnics are among my fondest memories. Cousins whom I seldom saw seemed like old friends. It never took long to pick up where we’d left off. And while there were a few kid squabbles and no doubt a few tears shed, those disagreements have long since been purged from my mind, and I relish the simple memories of family.
I share this with you because such gatherings are not limited to our blood relatives. There are times when we, as children of our heavenly Father, come together for similar family “picnics.” Often these assemblies take place around a communion table or a potluck or a church picnic. Sometimes they are local; sometimes denominational. Once in a great while—perhaps once in a lifetime—there are opportunities to have a family picnic with our “cousins” from around the world.
In a few weeks, the Christian Reformed Church will host what may well be the largest and broadest gathering of Reformed churches ever to take place. The Uniting General Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council will gather at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 18-26 to form the World Communion of Reformed Churches. We expect a thousand delegates and hundreds of official visitors and guests representing more than 80 million Christians from nearly 250 Reformed denominations.
Much like a family picnic, this gathering will be one of those rare times when cousins come together to celebrate what we hold in common as Reformed Christians. People from around the world, together in one place, will celebrate the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
As we gather, the world will watch with interest. They will see that what unites us as the family of God is far more powerful and important than what divides us. They will observe that Jesus’ prayer for unity can be lived out in the lives of his followers. As these delegates from around the world come together, each with his or her own language, culture, and customs, they will be a living testimony that the miracle of Pentecost has overcome the curse of Babel and that in Christ we form one body.
In a vision the disciple John saw “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9). In a small way, the Uniting General Council will be a glimpse on earth of John’s heavenly vision.
We are the church, the body of Christ. Each of us is a different part, with different gifts, different cultures, different languages, and different perspectives, but together we are his body. Together we can and do make a difference. And together we can demonstrate the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
For more information about the Uniting General Council and the events of this summer, please visit the website www.reformedchurches.org.