“It is more urgent than ever for all Christians to come together in prayer as Jesus prayed at the Last Supper that … ‘They may be one, as we are one’ (Jn 17:11),” Bishop David Ricken wrote in a letter inviting members of parishes and religious communities to the event.
The prayer service will mark the close of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Invited are members from more than 300 churches of various Christian traditions and denominations from around northeast Wisconsin, as well as Catholic priests, parish leaders and members of Catholic religious communities in the Green Bay Diocese.
On the day that marks the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, Bishop Ricken will welcome Bishop Russell Jacobus of the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac; Bishop James Justman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, East Central Synod of Wisconsin; the Rev. Gordon Lind from the United Methodist Church (superintendent of the Winnebago District); the Rev. Sarah Moore-Nokes from the Presbyterian Church (USA); and the Rev. Arthur Wille from the United Church of Christ in the cathedral sanctuary for the service.
Fr. John Girotti, rector of the cathedral, Deacon Tom Mahoney and the cathedral staff have been preparing for the Jan. 25th event. Carol Ricken will serve as cantor and Jody Strnad as organist. A collection will be taken for charities and homeless shelters located in the 16-county area of the Green Bay Diocese. The Gospel will be proclaimed by Rev. Moore-Nokes.
Those invited include members of 331 churches from Door to Waupaca and Winnebago counties including the United Methodists, the United Church of Christ, the Faith Alliance, Lutheran, Presbyterians, Moravians, Greek Orthodox, Baptists, Episcopalians, Unitarian Universalists, the Evangelical Free Church, the Divine Temple Church of God in Christ in Green Bay and the Hands of Christ Chapel in Neenah.
Most are member communities of the Wisconsin Council of Churches. Also invited were churches of the evangelical and Pentecostal traditions, who are not affiliated with the WCC.
While the Catholic Church does not belong to the WCC, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the La Crosse Diocese are observer members. Expanded participation by other Catholic dioceses is being encouraged.
Fr. James Massart, ecumenical liaison for the diocese, noted that the Jan. 25th prayer service is something new for the diocese, though he added that he has seen more local interest in ecumenism during the past year. He believes this is the fruit of a February 2011 dinner hosted by Bishop Ricken and attended by Fr. Massart, Bishop Jacobus, Bishop Justman and the Rev. Scott Anderson, executive director of the WCC. Fr. Massart said that the group discussed points raised by Pope Benedict XVI in his 2006 book, “Christianity and the Crisis of Culture.”
“Christians are all one faith,” Fr. Massart said. “Within that, there are denominations and traditions.”
He added that Bishop Ricken, in response to Pope Benedict’s call to spiritual ecumenism, “really wants to stress Christ, to show that Christ is really a person; not just a lofty ideal, but a person who has brought the human face of God into our midst for all people.”
Explaining that the Jan. 25 service is a form of “spiritual ecumenism,” Fr. Massart said, “We want to rev the pump up to the Lord first.” Hence the strong focus on prayer at the gathering.
As ecumenical liaison, Fr. Massart meets with Bishop Ricken monthly “to see where we can move toward seeing what types of activities we might foster for the greater good of the entire Diocese of Green Bay with all the different religious Christian traditions represented.”
“For authentic ecumenism,” Fr. Massart added, “we want to bring all people to Christ, not just out of different faith traditions, but for all to become truly united in Christ. And that will happen — in God’s time. It will happen naturally.”
Bishop Ricken’s ecumenical efforts also go beyond the diocese. He is a Vatican-appointed member of the International Commission for Dialogue between the Disciples of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church. In 2010, the bishop also hosted a gathering at his residence between Catholic pastors and Protestant ministers to build, as Fr. Massart put it, “a common understanding so that we might better witness the true spirit of Jesus within our complex and challenging 21st century.”
Since the 1980s, the Green Bay Diocese has signed various covenants, or statements of agreement on prayer and cooperation, with Evangelical Lutherans, the United Methodists and the Episcopalians.
For now, Fr. Massart said, the service on Jan. 25 is meant to “get us into a true ecumenical spirit around Christ. We can build on what we have. We have a strong ecumenical base in our diocese and it goes back to right after Vatican II. We haven’t been as high key since the late 1990s.”
Fr. Massart said that the hope is that the 2012 ecumenical prayer service will become an annual event, hosted by various denominations in coming years.
The theme for 2012’s Week of Christian Unity is “We will all be changed by the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ,” taken from the First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:51-58). The 2012 theme is an international theme, chosen by Polish members of the World Council of Churches.
According to the WCC website, the theme was chosen because it focuses on “the transformative power of faith in Christ, particularly in relation to our praying for the visible unity of the church, the body of Christ.”
A social in the Bishop Wycislo Center will follow the Jan. 25 event. The prayer event is open to the public, but seating is limited in the cathedral and priority seating will go to those with invitations.