Last year marked 500 years since the Protestant Reformation, which Pope Francis marked a year earlier by taking part in an ecumenical Catholic-Lutheran prayer service at Lund Cathedral in Sweden. In 2017, the Archdiocese of Vancouver took part in a number of events aimed at bringing Catholics and Lutherans for talk and worship. Two participants in last year’s Catholic-Lutheran dialogue offer their reflections on the relationship between the two Christian communities.
The Miracle of Dialogue
By Christophe Potworowski
In 2013, the International Dialogue between the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church published an agreed-upon statement entitled From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017. The document summarized the history and achievements of the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue since Vatican II, and ended with five “ecumenical imperatives” that needed to be followed in order to remain faithful to the ecumenical mission.
The first imperative reads: “Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced.” This imperative played a crucial role in the small Lutheran-Catholic dialogue group in our archdiocese.
The events of last October, the joint Lutheran-Roman Catholic liturgy for unity held at St. Clare Catholic Church in Coquitlam to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, was undoubtedly beautiful. Preparation for the event began several months earlier when about 10 people from the two churches gathered together in a small office to discuss what Lutherans and Roman Catholics had in common and to discover if we could talk freely with one another.
Would this be like two spouses getting together after a bitter divorce? Would there be recriminations, even if subtle ones? Would there be a desire to know the other?
The desire was there; it was palpable. Still, the first meeting was a bit awkward, with too many people and too many seats in too small an office. At the same time, there was a genuine interest, an awareness that this fragile and awkward moment looking for a path was an attempt to fulfill the will of Jesus “that they may be one” (Jn 17:21).
We decided to meet again. Most of us were used to church committees of one kind or another, and most of us were adept at organizing things and realizing projects. After a few meetings, we decided to look at a proposed template for a liturgical commemoration prepared by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada. The five ecumenical imperatives were there too, and together we read them in a prayerful manner.
Beginning with what we had in common meant beginning with Christ, in whom the unity was already present. Unity was not a matter of a successful project dependent on our management expertise, but a question of adhering to Christ and recognizing this adherence in the other. This changed everything.
The willingness and eagerness of Bishop Gregory Mohr of the B.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada and Archbishop Michael Miller to do a short, joint video was a moving witness. We were particularly struck by their reading of the five imperatives of dialogue. It was these imperatives that kept those in the small group desiring more. We didn’t want to end just with a project, even if a successful one.
A number of study days joining Lutheran and Catholic parishes were held in Coquitlam, New Westminster, and North and West Vancouver. It was clear to everyone that this was someone else’s project … someone else was in charge.
After the Oct. 1 unity service, the small group met for a debrief and a review. We reread the ecumenical imperatives and fought the temptation to realize another project. We wanted to continue the relationships established in the previous months and travel the path of unity together.
Concretely, this meant a small reading group reviewing previous ecumenical documents and finding ways to celebrate what had already been given to us.
We have found that together we can discover the grace of Christ more easily than on our own. We can discover aspects of his presence which previously were hidden and more difficult to see.
The fifth ecumenical imperative reads: “Catholics and Lutherans should witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.” The more we spend time together, the clearer the mercy.
The committee still meets.
Christophe Potworowsk teaches Scripture and theology at St. Mark’s College at UBC.
Singing in the light of God
By Gail Tremaine
A year ago, on Oct. 1, 2017, I was part of
a Lutheran-Catholic commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the reformation,
marked by an ecumenical worship service held at St. Clare of Assisi Catholic Church
For me, music is one of the instruments through which the Holy Spirit can work. Music is one way Christians can express their faith as a response to the presence of God and his love. Music can unite, making the word more effective in teaching faith.
Music is a medium that can reach many
people, and Luther, an accomplished musician, composed, translated, and used
music intentionally so worship would be something for the masses to enjoy and
Music plays a strong part in the liturgy, and I was very excited to be singing in the ecumenical choir. Raising my voice with my brothers and sisters in Christ was truly exhilarating! It was expressed in one of the songs that we sang: “We are singing in the light of God.”
Worship starts with gathering. We gather to hear God’s word. We gather to sing. We gather to confess and to receive forgiveness. We gather to pray. We gather to be fed with the bread of life. We gather around these gifts of grace. We are the church. We have been fed and we then can go in peace and serve God.
In the joint worship service, we as Catholics and Lutherans gathered together, both witnessing faith and committing ourselves to move toward more unity and not divisiveness. Between us we hold so much in common, and that should be strengthened, rather than concentrating on the differences.
I recall thinking as the service was progressing, that there was real inclusivity … not just Catholic and Lutheran, but also young and old, lay people and clergy, a mix of nationalities – all gathered together praising and participating.
How inspiring it was to hear the ecumenical imperatives being read and to see the candle bearers come forward to light the five candles. How powerful it was as everyone prayed together, reciting The Apostles’ Creed and The Lord’s Prayer together and sharing peace with newfound neighbours.
I was so happy to share in the 500th ecumenical commemoration. Our Lutheran-Catholic journey had been more or less a separate one for 500 years, and now we were learning to walk together toward healing in God’s church, to engage, to learn from some shared perspectives, and maybe to practise or shape a new model of the Reformation.
I do not think of the Reformation as a triumph of Lutheranism, even though the event did affect the whole church. Let us try to focus on the message that it is God who gives us grace, forgiveness, and hope. Grace can build new relationships. The spotlight is on God. This is an age where interfaith relationships in our communities are important. We should be inspired to continue to move toward ongoing reform.
I left the ecumenical service with a feeling of the presence of God in my heart. I was energized and inspired. I had hope. Was I caught up in God’s spirit of reconciliation? I think so.
Yet my feeling is that this initiative needs to continue. For some it may be quite exciting, while for others it may be a bit uncomfortable. Can we create a space where we can imagine how we can be more together? To try to discover a commonality by embracing the fact that we do have differences?
Ecumenism can be something bigger: a commemoration of the past but also a beginning of some reflection on what might be new in our relationship. We need to listen to each other’s voices, and not just in song, as we move forward.
We are on a journey. Wherever we are in this journey, we know that we are liberated by God’s grace. I know that I was!
Gail Tremaine is on the church council at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Coquitlam.