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Ecumenism is not about the church

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski


SASKATOON — Salt and light were the scriptural images highlighted during an Eastern-rite closing celebration for the Week of Christian Unity held at Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church in Saskatoon.

Participants lit candles from a common flame and tasted a pinch of salt in a ritual gesture of commitment to unity, reflecting Christ’s call to be “light to the world and salt of the earth” proclaimed in the Gospel reading.

Darren Dahl, director of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism, which organizes the Week of Prayer events in Saskatoon, explained that the Eastern-rite service was developed from resources prepared for the global week by Christians from Latvia.

Homilist at the closing service was Bishop Kenneth Kearon, who was also the keynote speaker for this year’s De Margerie Series on Christian Reconciliation and Unity, held in conjunction with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Saskatoon.

“Ecumenism is not about the church, it’s about the world,” said Kearon, the Anglican bishop of Limerick and Killaloe in Ireland. He served as director of the Irish School of Ecumenics at Trinity College in Dublin from 1999 to 2005 and as Secretary General of the Anglican Communion from 2004 to 2014.

Kearon reflected on the challenge posed by the Week of Prayer’s 2016 theme from 1 Peter 2:9: “Called to proclaim the mighty acts of God.”

“We have a life-transforming message and yet we’re not that confident about promoting that message in public in our modern western society,” he said, noting the increasing push to “privatize” faith as an individual choice that should not be part of public discourse.

Pope Francis has captured the world’s attention by continually stressing that the Gospel message of Jesus Christ is not about the church, but rather about the world, said Kearon. “When he washes people’s feet, he doesn’t go into a fancy church, he goes into a prison. . . . It is about the world, it is not about the church.”

Kearon pointed to the roots of the modern ecumenical movement in the realization by disappointed 19th century missionaries that a divided church cannot effectively evangelize the world. “Because they had brought their own conflicts and divisions right into the mission field, people looking at Christianity from the outside weren’t that impressed. The division of the churches was hindering the message of the Gospel,” said Kearon. “What we now called the ecumenical movement rose out of that realization.”

The imperative for Christian unity is not that it is simply a good idea, a better use of resources, or a nice thing to do, he said. “The reason why we search for the unity of the Christian church is that we can’t preach the Christian Gospel with any sort of integrity into a fractured and broken world that badly needs that message, if we ourselves our divided,” stressed Kearon.

As part of the 2016 De Margerie series, Kearon also led a workshop for ministry leaders Jan. 22, and a public workshop on Being Church in the World Today Jan. 23 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family. Building an Ecumenical Barn was the theme of Kearon’s lecture for the De Margerie Series, held Jan. 21 at St. Thomas More College (STM) at the University of Saskatchewan.

The De Margerie Series is jointly presented by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, the Les and Irene Dubé Chair of Catholic Studies at STM, and the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism. The series was named in honour of Rev. Bernard de Margerie, a longtime leader in the local ecumenical movement.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity opened Jan. 17 with a service at Zion Lutheran Church in Saskatoon.

“Let the stone of division in the Body of Christ be rolled away,” said Rev. Bill Blackmon of Circle Drive Church during the opening homily.

“Life for Christian believers only comes from one source . . . that source is Christ alone,” he said. “There is no path leading to unity which does not go first by way of the cross and the empty tomb.”

Blackmon, who is a member of the Catholic-Evangelical dialogue underway in Saskatoon, reflected on the call to Christian unity and its roots in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Unity begins with the connection to the prayer of Christ that we become one as he is with his Father. Unity is empowered by our obedience to his command that we love one another. And unity is transferred to others by the power of the Holy Spirit in us, in our faith together.”

Reflecting on some 20 years of his own ecumenical growth and experience in Saskatoon, Blakmon said that Christians are called to come to the ecumenical table “bringing our best and confessing our worst” in a process grounded in authentic relationships.

The Week of Prayer continued with early morning worship each weekday in a different local church, as well as an evening of hymn singing, a lunch at Queen’s House, and a Ceilidh — a Celtic celebration of unity featuring music and dance — held Jan. 22 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon.

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