by the Rev. Paul Jarvis
Special to Sun Thisweek
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” – Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples in the Gospel of John 17: 20-21
Christians are supposed to be together!
The movement among Christians promoting Christian unity, as everyone knows, is the ecumenical movement. It is the attempt by Christian Church – in its broadest sense, throughout its various traditions – to practice what Our Lord prayed for on the night before he died for us.
During one recent week, all sorts of Christians prayed for unity as Christ wills it. Not necessarily how any particular tradition or individual Christian would like to see it … which is usually in conformity with one’s tradition.
As one of the first congregations established in Rosemount, we at St. Joseph Church have considered it our duty and privilege to join in this prayer for unity. In fact, as an assembly and as individuals, St. Joe’s parishioners are right now praying for individual Christian communities, by name, within Rosemount and neighboring cities. We’re praying that they grow in doing God’s will. Loving God … others … oneself.
We ask that other communities pray for ours.
Praying for each other is important, but just the beginning. Christian disciples of different traditions also need to spend time with each other. We might just learn something. And move beyond misinformation and prejudice.
I have found in my life that when folks only associate with like-minded people, virtually living in separate worlds, it’s relatively easy to “them”-ify others. To think “them” weird. Perhaps even demonize “them.” Certainly to not give a hoot about “them.”
This is why praying for other Christian denominations and congregations during this week of prayer for Christian unity – wishing their well, rather than wishing them gone or corrected or absorbed – needs to be accompanied by breaking through social barriers, and spending time with “them.” To de-“them”-ify other denominations’ Christians.
I ask Christian readers, When was the last time you actually sought out the company of another Christian community’s members?
Not to theologically argue or convert. But to get together.
The occasional wedding and funeral aside – which are not exactly conducive to interdenominational fellowship – most Christians keep within their sectarian walls.
And pastors: When was the last time you sought fellowship with another denomination’s pastor … outside of periodic meetings with community leaders?
I’ve been blessed here in Rosemount. When I arrived at my new assignment one and a half years ago, two pastors reached out to me for fellowship: Pastor Per Nelsen of the Community of Hope, and Pastor Bill Goodwin of Lighthouse Christian Church. I now periodically meet with Per for lunch, just to talk. And only incidentally to creatively think of ways to collaborate.
I’ve come to expect Bill Goodwin to be good enough to show up at St. Joseph Church events that we’ve invited area congregations to. And I try to return the favor. At St. Joe’s Leprechaun Days Tailgate Party and Fireworks Watch last summer, I humbly let Bill think he won the Commode Race between us. It was quite ecumenical of me.
Last Fall, Pastor Karen Bruins of Rosemount United Methodist invited St. Joe’s to join with them in resurrecting a dormant tradition: an ecumenical Thanksgiving Service on Thanksgiving Eve. True to the ecumenical spirit, Karen invited me to preach at the service in her congregation. Next year, the St. Joseph family is hosting the extended family’s gathering, and Pastor Bruins will be preaching.
Last Good Friday, Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan invited congregations like St. Joe’s into their “Cross Walk.” It was a veritable United Nations of denominations taking turns in carrying that heavy wooden cross. And it was beautiful.
Come 11 a.m. on the first Saturday in October, we’re hoping many pastors will join me and Deacon Steve Boatwright in blessing pets, farm animals, exotic beasts at our Blessing of the Animals. I figure half of those at the annual blessing are from other congregations.
Praying for other congregations by name, praying for Christian unity is an important beginning. But in order to keep right with Jesus’ farewell wish for us, we need to be together.
If you’ve got some ideas of how Christians of all shapes and stripes can come together … just to be together … please let me know. I’ll try them out with my new pastor-friends.
The Rev. Father Paul Jarvis is pastor at St. Joseph Church and School. He can be reached at Paul.Jarvis@StJosephCommunity.org. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.