SASKATOON — Fifteen years ago, McClure United Church and Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Parish in Saskatoon entered into a covenant, promising to journey together in a relationship of shared prayer, study and fellowship.
The 15th anniversary of the signing of the covenant was celebrated March 8 at Holy Spirit, with an afternoon prayer service followed by a social gathering.
Holy Spirit pastor Rev. Ken Beck welcomed members of both congregations and representatives of the broader community “to celebrate the goodness and presence of God in our communities.” McClure United pastor Rev. Ron McConnell led the call to worship, and a choir made up of representatives of both churches led music for the service.
A reading from 1 Corinthians 12:12-17 was proclaimed by Rev. Dan Yasinski, associate pastor at Holy Spirit, and Rev. Debra Berg of McClure United Church read the Gospel, from John 17.
The chair of the River Bend Presbytery of the United Church of Canada and the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon presented reflections, before together lighting a covenant candle.
In her sermon, presbytery chair Rev. Jordan Cantwell thanked the two congregations for their strong example of “deep, ecumenical sharing at a very grassroots level.”
She described her own Christian journey and a lifelong passion for ecumenical dialogue. “One thing I learned is how much all of our churches have in common, that at our heart, we share the same faith. But I also came to appreciate the very real differences and the unique gifts that each of these denominations brings.”
Cantwell pointed to the Gospel of John, in which Jesus prays that his disciples may be one, and that all who come after them may also be one. “It is our responsibility as God’s church in the world to reflect the unity of God,” she stressed.
Jesus makes it clear that unity is not optional, it is essential, she said, before reflecting on Paul’s example of the body as a way to envision how unity works. “Unity means all the parts working together, doing what they’re supposed to be doing, recognizing one another as members of ourselves — that’s what Paul tells us.”
This vision requires that Christians be well rooted in their own traditions, she said. “We bring the best of our teachings and practices and traditions, because the wholeness and the proper functioning of the body depends on each part working well. So when we come together to share the richness of our faith traditions with one another, we do so with humility and we do so with gratitude. We do so knowing that we need what the other brings, just as much as they need what we have to offer.”
This is precisely the spirit of the covenant between Holy Spirit and McClure, Cantwell noted, describing the ongoing relationship between the two as a source of hope and inspiration for others. “You have shown us one way that we can begin to heal the body, one way that we can move closer to the full and perfect unity that God desires for us.”
Bolen recalled the words of Cardinal Walter Kasper: “If we live in a period of real but incomplete communion, it’s clear that we need to find a way to live deeply and faithfully in the midst of that transition, to endow and fill that period with real life. The churches did not only diverge through discussion, they diverged through the way they lived, through alienation and estrangement. Therefore, they need to come closer to each other again in their lives. They must become accustomed to each other, pray together, work together, live together.”
The McClure-Holy Spirit covenant is making that idea a reality, Bolen added. “We need covenantal relationships to help us live the communion we share. It’s not full, but it is genuine, it is real — and it has implications for our lives.”
Bolen noted that it is not easy to write a beautiful ecumenical covenant, but it is even more difficult to live it. With a steering committee that meets every six weeks, and opportunities for joint prayer, shared preaching and common mission keep the covenant relationship alive.
The assembly together prayed the Apostles Creed, exchanged the sign of peace, and collected an offering for the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism. Nicole Gursky and John Nanson led prayers of intercession, and then Jim Cruthers, Linda Cooney, Carol Pek and Bill Shank read the covenant originally signed by the two congregations on March 5, 2000.
“In witness to the wider church and to the world: we acknowledge the fractured Body of Christ and the need for healing, we rejoice in the gift of unity that Jesus Christ gives us, and celebrate the real, though imperfect, communion that we share. We recognize the value of our respective traditions and pledge to encourage one another to grow in them in a manner that unites rather than divides,” the covenant states.
The two churches pledged to engage in regular public prayer for each other and the unity of all Christians, to come together for shared prayer, to invite members of either faith community as welcome guests at the worship services of the other. The covenant also lists concrete actions, including an exchange of preaching, music or other worship ministry at least once every six months; sharing Sunday bulletins, newsletters and bulletin board materials; planning joint educational activities to broaden understanding of the theology of the church, respective beliefs and traditions; sharing in joint social justice action and social gatherings.