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Catholic Vancouver Oct 13, 2017

Catholics, Lutherans strengthen ties at solemn prayer service

By Maureen Boyd

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, and Lutheran Bishop Greg Mohr process out of St. Clare's Church after an ecumenical prayer service Oct. 1. (Christoph Reiners / Special to The B.C. Catholic)

Special to The B.C. Catholic

COQUITLAM—Local Catholics and Lutherans chose to celebrate unity, rather than division, on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that tore the two traditions apart.

About 300 people gathered at St. Clare’s Catholic Church for a joint prayer service led by Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, and Lutheran Bishop Greg Mohr Oct. 1.

“The sight of the leaders of both of our churches leading the assembly in worship was a very hopeful sign for the future,” said Eric Krushel, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Coquitlam.

“There was a strong feeling of good will in the church and the voices melding together in song was such a powerful and audible sign of the unity we seek.”

The year 2017 marks 500 years since Martin Luther initiated the Reformation. It also marks 50 years since the launch of the Roman Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue, an international effort to mend relationships between the two churches.

Today, reform means something very different. It means working against the status quo of separation and working for a renewed relationship based on the core commitments of our faith.
Eric Krushel

Krushel said the prayer service at St. Clare’s marked a massive shift in how Catholics and Lutherans interact and understand each other.

“This anniversary is not just about celebrating Lutheran heritage and culture, but it’s about moving forward. It’s about redefining the word reform. For so long the word reform meant defining ourselves as Lutherans against our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters,” he said.

“Today, reform means something very different. It means working against the status quo of separation and working for a renewed relationship based on the core commitments of our faith.”

The liturgy at St. Clare’s was based on From Conflict to Communion, a document published in 2013 by the International Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity. Participants prayed using sections of the document that underlined themes of thanksgiving and repentance, and Bishops Miller and Mohr gave homilies on the Gospel of John, encouraging those present to be a visible sign of Christian unity.

The core of the program revolved around five commitments made by the whole congregation. Five people, led by eight-year-old Dominic Friesen, carried candles to the altar to represent these commitments:

1)    Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity, not division, to strengthen what they hold in common.
2)    Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.
3)    Catholics and Lutherans should commit themselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate on what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal.
4)    Lutherans and Catholics should jointly rediscover the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for our time.
5)    Catholics and Lutherans should witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.

Krushel said it was a solemn, yet joy-filled moment. “The service felt for me like a point of no return … in the sense that there has been a commitment made to moving forward together and that there’s no going back for either of our churches to the divisive and suspicious ways of the past.”

The prayer service was followed by a reception that gave participants an opportunity to dialogue and to share their stories.

Another event aimed at bringing Catholics and Lutherans together, this time to talk about Mary and the saints, will be held Nov. 25 at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.