NEW WESTMINSTER--Rev. Marlys Moen remembers growing up in a small Saskatchewan town, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, and playing with the neighbourhood kids. Except the ones next door: “because they were Catholic and we were Protestant.”

Today the pastor of Mount Zion Lutheran Church in New Westminster laughs because for more than a decade her church and St. Peter’s Catholic Church in New Westminster “have regularly gathered together in Jesus’ name, and actually enjoyed being together.”

On May 18, Moen took part in an ecumenical dialogue that brought Catholics and Lutherans together to speak about their experiences with other Christian denominations and how to reconcile past transgressions between the faiths.

The event, hosted by Moen’s church and St. Peter’s, was the first of two sessions, with the second scheduled for May 25 at St. Peter’s.

She noted the great progress that’s been made as Catholics and Lutherans try to repair the 500-year-old division left by the Reformation. “Tonight we are gathered to celebrate 50 years of restoring and building relationships between Catholics and Lutherans,” said Rev. Moen. “We also celebrate our own special relationship between our two congregations in New Westminster.”

For Marjeta Bobnar, interfaith and ecumenical relations coordinator for the Archdiocese of Vancouver, the evening recognized “the dialogue we’ve already had” and served as “a chance to talk about what we can do” in future. “We can’t change the past, but we can learn and move forward.”

The segregation between denominations meant interfaith differences remained a mystery, only serving to highlight the distance. It wasn’t until university when Moen discovered the similarities of their faith.

“In university, an Anglican friend invited me to attend a prayer meeting with her. I had never been to a charismatic gathering, so I didn’t know what to expect,” she admitted.

“Well, much to my pleasant surprise, I found myself with a marvelous, spirited group of people at, get this, St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Prince Albert. I have never ever forgotten that time of praise and worship with this diverse group of people, including many of the retired French-speaking nuns of the community.”

The experience, as well as a marriage between her Lutheran cousin and his Catholic bride, served to highlight the need for unity. “Catholic, Lutheran, evangelical, we all love the same,” said Moen.

Catholics and Lutherans “should always begin from the perspective of unity,” not division, and “to strengthen what is held in common.”