VANCOUVER—It’s going to be a good year for ecumenism.
Last year marked 500 years since the Protestant Reformation, but rather than open old wounds, locals say the anniversary seemed to ignite interest in warming up relationships between Christian churches.
“There’s more interest this year. I’m excited,” said Marjeta Bobnar, archdiocesan coordinator for ecumenical and interfaith relations. “There are many engaged people.”
This year she’s already seen increased curiosity about events and ministries that bring Christians of all backgrounds together. Among them, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an annual, worldwide event that has been observed in B.C. for at least a decade.
Between Jan. 18 and 25, 11 churches in Abbotsford, Coquitlam, Mission, New Westminster, Surrey, and Vancouver will host prayer services and invite their Christian neighbours.
“It means a lot. You get people from various congregations together and they learn about each other,” said St. Ann’s parishioner Linda Harder, who is organizing a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service there Jan. 23.
An average of 60 people attend the prayer service each year, said Harder, including many regulars. “It’s nice for people to get together and realize we’re all praying to the same God. I think it means a lot to the people of Abbotsford.”
The five services in Abbotsford also benefit a good cause; every year a collection is taken, and the $1,200-$1,800 raised is split between the local food bank and another charity. This year half of the funds will support hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico.
Bishop Greg Mohr, of the B.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, said the Reformation anniversary has also increased interest in ecumenism among local Lutherans.
“What’s been interesting to me as a bishop is to hear people talk about a recommitment to Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,” he told The B.C. Catholic.
When he was a parish pastor in the 1980s, there was a fair amount of interest in observing the week of prayer, but interest slowly waned. Then in 2017, with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, he held a prayer service with Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, at St. Clare’s in Coquitlam and found that event helped reignite his church’s curiosity.
“This has helped us to think again about the importance of our ecumenical relations, particularly in a world where there is such distrust of religion, of Christianity, or just apathy. We’re recognizing how important it is that we need to be engaged in these things together. We have to present that kind of witness to the world,” he said.
The prayer service at St. Clare’s “helped us to have those conversations, to make extra effort to get together, and now we’re seeing the fruits.”
Several Lutheran churches already have strong relationships with Catholic churches, including Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and All Saints Parish in Coquitlam, along with other active efforts on Vancouver Island.
“We never want to be on separate journeys again. We want to journey along together in our ministry in the Gospel,” said Bishop Mohr.
Anglican, Mennonite, Christian Reformed, and United churches are participating in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with the Catholics and Lutherans. So is Catholic Street Missionaries, a group that invites young adults (aged 19-39) of all faiths to celebrate the week of prayer in another way: reaching out to the homeless Jan. 21.
Bobnar will also lead eight days of prayer and reflection in the Chapel of the Annunciation at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre in Vancouver. “It’s quite exciting. I’m looking forward to the week!”
Bobnar admitted that when she took the job of ecumenical relations coordinator six years ago, it was hard to drum up interest. “Ecumenism is a long process and very hard work, reaching out, trying not to give up … But there are so many opportunities, and we are looking for these opportunities, to pray together, for outreach together, to study together. All this can be done.”
She’s invigorated by the increased curiosity. She found out St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Richmond recently partnered up with a handful of Anglican, Lutheran, and United churches and announced it would offer a series of free public seminars about the Reformation and Communion. Those events will run monthly starting Jan. 23.
“If there is any desire to start anything, this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an occasion. People come together, connect, experience fellowship, and from there, can also start to get together for Bible studies or homeless outreach,” she said.
“That’s a continuous thrust we want to bring ahead: this desire for unity among Christians.”