" 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 the differences are more easily seen and experienced." Ecumenical Imperative 1
On Monday night at the Helena Cathedral there was certainly a show of unity. Catholics and Lutherans from the 4 corners of Montana, 750 strong, gathered to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. There were children and youth, elderly and middle aged. There were lay people and clergy, bishops and professors. It was a solemn event, cognizant of the pain between our 2 churches over the centuries, of the pain in families and communities. It acknowledged the areas where we need to repent our arrogance, our certainty that we and only we are right.
But it also joyously affirmed our oneness in Christ. Through scripture (I Corinthians 12), through prayers, through music, through homilies (yes, there were 4 bishops, and each preached!), we celebrated and pledged to find more ways to focus on our oneness. In reflecting on the powerful impact of the service, many people said, "Oh, we have to do this again!" There is nothing quite like being with 750 people in the Helena Cathedral! But there are so many other ways that we can focus on our unity.
The service was built around the 5 Ecumenical Imperatives that are part of the Lutheran-Catholic "From Conflict to Communion" project. (A Lutheran-Catholic Convocation last Friday also addressed the imperatives, with a Lutheran and a Catholic speaking on each of the 5.) It doesn't take a large group of people in an imposing Cathedral or a group of pastors in a hotel conference room to discuss the imperatives. You can do it with your congregation, you can do it in groups of 2 or three. You can get together with a Catholic parish, or a Catholic neighbor and discuss each of the Ecumenical Imperatives together. (The biggest complaint we got about the Convocation was that the speakers, helpful though they were, took up too much of the time that was designated for conversation at the table. People want to talk about this, and they want to do it together.)
I will be addressing the Ecumenical Imperatives in the next weeks in the Words from the Bishop. To see all 5 of them, go to the Montana Synod website, or click here.
In the last year, especially, there are been books, articles, TV shows, movies, church programs, university lectures and more about Luther and the Reformation. We have now commemorated the 500th anniversary. But remember, it is the 500th anniversary of the beginning, not of the ending. And so, as we move into the next 500 years, we have the gift of the five Ecumenical Imperatives to guide us. The first one reminds us always to start with unity, not division. That's what we did on Monday night, and that is our ongoing challenge as we leave behind Helena and go to our homes.
One of our five Montana Synod Benchmarks, which we focused on this last year at our Assembly, is "Promote Unity." How well that Benchmark dovetails with the first Ecumenical Imperative. The Benchmark urges us to promote unity. The Imperative asks us to embody it. And so we begin, always "from the perspective of unity."
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Click here for a History of Ecumenism by Dr. Paul Seastrand
Click here for the History of Lutherans and Catholics in Montana by Very Rev. Jay H. Peterson, V.G.
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA