It is one thing to have high-level theoretical conversations on what we ought to do. It is quite another actually to do these things. This Ecumenical Imperative, one of the 5 that resulted from Lutheran-Catholic work on the Reformation commemoration, asks us to go public, to be visible, and to keep on working at it.
Seeking visible unity is not accomplished by a single act--whether it is an ecumenical worship service, a joint statement or 2 congregations working together on a fundraiser for the poor. Seeking visible unity is a process. It involves setting goals together, and working together towards them.
At the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, Catholic Bishop Denis Madden, Co-Chair of the Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue Committee, responded to the gift of a chalice with the statement: "I look forward to the day when we can drink from this cup together," setting a goal of Eucharistic sharing.
What goals are we willing to set as Lutherans and Catholics in the quest for visible unity? I would certainly agree with Bishop Madden that we want to be able to come to the table together. But what steps can we commit to between now and then? These are things we need to agree upon together. Visible unity takes 2 partners, and both must have ownership of the process.
Our Reformation 500 service in the Helena Cathedral was certainly a stunning example of visible unity. So was the service honoring the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, at the Cathedral in 1999, as was the 10th anniversary celebration in 2009 in Great Falls. We have taken some other steps. In 2012, Bishop Warfel and I did a road trip and had Lutheran-Catholic dialogues in 5 cities--Havre, Great Falls, Lewistown, Billings, Sidney. In October of 2017, we did a joint Bishops's Convocation, and jointly considered the 5 Ecumenical Imperatives.
What might you do in your community? How might you work towards visible unity? January 18-25 is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.* In many communities there is a joint ecumenical service. Is this a time to promote greater understanding between Catholics and Lutherans? How might that happen? The 2018 theme, “Your Right Hand, O Lord, Glorious in Power, comes from Exodus 15: 6. Each year, Christians from a different part of the world prepare the resources. For 2018, a group of Christians from the Caribbean have prepared the resources. They write:
“The prophets repeatedly remind Israel that their covenant demanded that relationships among its various social groups should be characterized by justice, compassion and mercy. Reconciliation often demands repentance, reparation and healing of memories. As Jesus prepared to seal the new covenant in his own blood, his earnest prayer to the Father was that those given to him by the Father would be one, just as he and the Father were one. When Christians discover their unity in Jesus, they participate in Christ’s glorification in the presence of the Father, with the same glory that he had lived in the Father’s presence before the world existed.”
Jesus prayed that his followers would be one. When he prayed that prayer on the night of his betrayal, his earthly followers numbered, at the most, in the hundreds. He prayed in the presence of his dozen disciples that they would be one. Now Jesus’ followers number in the millions, billions. His prayer remains.
The third imperative challenges us to come up with concrete steps towards visible unity, and to keep on trying.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
*Resources for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity are available by ordering them from the website of the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute. http://www.geii.org/