GREEN BAY — Amid a spirit of hope and repentance, some 200 Catholics and Lutherans gathered Oct. 29 at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church for a “Common Commemoration of the Reformation.” This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which divided the Christian community.
Since the Second Vatican Council, Catholic and Lutheran leaders have been sharing dialogue in an effort to affirm their common beliefs and to heal their divisions. The service was led by Bishop David Ricken and Lutheran Bishop Gerald Mansholt of the East Central Synod of Wisconsin, ELCA. Also presiding at the service were Maximus Cabey, ecumenical officer for the Diocese of Green Bay, and Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church of Wausau.
Two interfaith couples, Mary Ann and Jeff Otto and Maria and Tom Nelson served as readers. Following the prayer service, both couples led a workshop titled “Ecumenical Marriages: A Mirror of Lutheran-Catholic Sharing.”
The prayer service theme was “From Conflict to Communion,” which is the title of a study guide created by the international Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue in anticipation of the 2017 Reformation anniversary.
“For over 50 years, Lutherans and Catholics have been on a journey from conflict to communion,” said Cabey. “With joy, we have come to recognize what unites us is far greater than what divides us. On this journey, mutual understanding and trust have grown.”
Mary Ann and Jeff Otto shared excerpts from the document, “From Conflict to Communion,” that described the journey of “all baptized believers and their calling for the common mission of the church.”
In a joint sermon, Bishop Ricken and Bishop Mansholt referenced the Gospel reading, taken from John’s Gospel, chapter 15, which offered an image of Jesus as the true vine and God as the vine: “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
“I think the center of dialogue and growth in Christ comes from that abiding,” said Bishop Ricken. “To be able to deeply listen to the other is something that is so lacking in our society today. And perhaps more than anything else … if we can learn to deeply abide in Christ and to listen deeply to one another, we will have done a great service to the civic community.
“My brothers and sisters, I think that if the dialogue is to move forward with Lutherans and Catholics, we have to, first of all, connect deeply to the vine, to spend time in quiet contemplation, each of us, and as communities, to learn to be comfortable with silence in the presence of God,” added Bishop Ricken, “and to sift out of ourselves everything that is not of God by allowing that silence to purify us, to prepare us for deeper engagement with the other and to prepare us to launch into the world with God’s gift of love.”
Bishop Mansholt called the prayer service “a day that so many of us have longed for, waited for and, indeed, prayed for.”
“What we are witnessing today is nothing less than what God is able to do when we allow God to do that pruning work, as the evangelist John talks about,” he said. “To do that pruning work among us and within us and through us, so that we might bear the fruits of repentance and the fruits of growth in our life in Christ.”
Bishop Mansholt noted that the day’s gathering “humbly acknowledges” the events of the past — “the pain and controversies that are so much a part of that.”
By God’s grace, he said, “we have been forgiven and cleansed of all that has been part of our past lo these 500 years. We are not captives to the past. Yes, there have been and there will continue to be those times in the church when we do not live up to our calling — those times where we do not follow Jesus as we ought, but God’s grace is sufficient and God’s mercy heals. It is God, through the Holy Spirit, that will continue to guide us through these days in a spirit-led journey to God’s promised future of full communion among us all.”
The Lutheran bishop added that Christians “are also church for the sake of the world.”
“Our gathering in this moment in time, as Lutherans and Catholics, is not simply about tending to our history and tending to our own past,” he added. “This is a day for healing among us and it is a healing for the sake of the world. … May it be so in Jesus’ name.”
The ecumenical service also included a commitment to five imperatives. Reading of the imperatives was led by youth. After each imperative, two youths, representing both denominations, jointly lit a candle. The five imperatives are as follows. 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 differences are more easily seen and experienced.
- Must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.
- Should again commit themselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what this means … and to strive repeatedly toward this goal.
- Should jointly rediscover the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for our time.
- Should witness together the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.
Intercessory prayers were offered for world needs by Tom and Maria Nelson, followed by recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Both bishops offered a join blessing to conclude the prayer service.