SASKATOON — A Google search of The Joy of the Gospel will result in over 44 and a half million entries. Such is the impact of Pope Francis’ first major message not only on Catholics but also on Christians of all denominations. This impact is also felt by an ever-growing group of participants in dialogue with The Joy of the Gospel at Queen’s House in Saskatoon. What is unique about this group is that both presenters and participants come from a variety of Christian traditions.
These sessions have truly become “an exchange of gifts” as St. John Paul II described the experience of dialogue with other Christians. The first session in September included an exercise of typical vocabulary used by the various Christian traditions spread across the walls. Participants were paired up and invited to discuss which words were the most meaningful and held a central place for them in their religious beliefs. The dialogue that followed was an enriching experience of how much we hold in common with each other. The following sessions featured presentations by two or three persons from various Christian traditions elucidating how Francis’ words resonate with their own theological and moral teachings.
On Oct. 18 Carmen Kampman of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Rev. Ron Bestvater of the Lutheran Church and Rev. Keitha Ogbogu of the Free Methodist Church reminded us how important fellowship and learning from one another is — that every church has had its scandals and that our leaders need places of healing and reconciliation. They spoke of mission and discipleship. We are all called to be missionary disciples in our own corner of the world. The cost of discipleship is very high and the mission is not ours but the mission of Jesus Christ.
On Nov. 15 Rev. Paul Matheson of First Baptist Church shared that he has been using Pope Francis’ text as the basis for his congregation’s Sunday morning Adult Faith Education with the question: “What does the pope have to teach Baptists about evangelizing and what can we teach the pope about evangelizing?” Matheson commented that The Joy of the Gospel speaks to the whole church — the whole Christian community — and how much in the document resonates with the Evangelical tradition of which he is a part.
“It invites me to a more joyful living of the Gospel,” he said.
He then spoke of the relationship between Christianity and culture and how the theme is related to the Incarnation of Christ: “Christ was part of first-century Jewish life just as we are part of 20th-century Canadian life.” The challenge of the document “is that we can become more devoted to the forms and customs we love than to the Gospel itself.” How then do we evangelize the culture itself when the Christian voice in Canadian society is being marginalized? Rev. Nancy Yee, an Anglican priest, delineated the meaning of culture, inculturation, enculturation, and acculturation. She asked, “What do we do in a church in a culture that has been Christianized but has lost its flavour and now is secular?”
Her own faith journey has taught her that God can speak to and touch the heart in a deep and powerful way in places least expected. God is present before we are. Christ’s relationship to culture is multifaceted.
In the afternoon we reflected on Pope Francis’ words about the homily while Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers, Matheson and Yee shared how they experienced the importance of and preparation for the Sunday homily. Presentations are followed by personal prayerful reflection, table discussion and sharing with a set of lead questions prepared by the presenting team. It is in the dialogue among those coming from a variety of Christian traditions that relationships grow strong and that we come to appreciate the gifts in each other as well as the gifts we can bring to enrich each other’s depth of faith in Jesus Christ.
Not the least of the session is the closing prayer ritual where we pray with each other for the unity Christ so desires for his church. We pray with each other, we bless each other with our presence and we pledge our commitment to continue the dialogue.