By JEAN DRISKELL, Special to the Bulletin | Published November 27, 2017
ATLANTA—The Oct. 31 ecumenical prayer service at the Cathedral of Christ the King, “Common Prayer—From Conflict to Communion,” commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The Cathedral and Lutheran communities provided the music.
The ecumenical service, approved by The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation, is based on the document “From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017.”
Presiding at the service were Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Bishop Bernard E. “Ned” Shlesinger III, joined by Bishop H. Julian Gordy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Southeastern Synod (ECLA).
“The gift we long for most of all is the gift of unity and peace, which only our Lord Jesus himself can provide,” Archbishop Gregory said in his homily.
“The church has always called to reform and to renewal,” he said. “And occasionally we must involve a critical self-examination. Lutherans and Catholics have been engaged in that self-examination for the past 50 years.”
Archbishop Gregory continued, “the ecumenical conversation that we now celebrate this evening is a cleansing moment that is redemptive for the church. God’s grace is never limited to our human cares. As Lutherans and Catholics we stand in humble submission before the Lord asking him to forgive our arrogance and hard-heartedness and unwillingness to admit our sins.”
Referring to the Gospel reading (Jn 15:1-5) he asked that the Lord of the vineyard restore Lutherans and Catholics “to wholeness of the vine that is Christ.”
Archbishop Gregory also asked the Lord to raise up a bountiful harvest and “strengthen the vine that unites us in Christ and allows us to witness a day of peace and harmony.”
Quoting Pope Francis, Bishop Gordy said, “The intention of Martin Luther, 500 years ago, was to renew the church, not divide it.”
“The truth is that the reforms Martin (Luther) started did divide the church,” he said. “The early Reformation had split the church into dozens of competing religious groups each with its own set of exclusive truths.”
“At last, we are able to begin to admit our failures in the past, the lack of charity that we had with one another, the ways in which we had misrepresented each other’s faith, each other’s intentions, each other’s actions,” Bishop Gordy said.
The Lutheran clergyman said that the evening gathering is witness that all have begun to see themselves and others differently, “… not as those who possess all the truths versus those who possess little or none, but as branches of the one true vine.”
Bishop Gordy stated that Pope Francis said that despite the stubbornness and violence that “characterized our ecclesial reality through the years, still Jesus has continued to walk with us in our various communities. And, even when we weren’t listening he has continued to speak to us of the unity that we have in Christ.”
“This is how the world will know that we are Christ’s disciples,” he said. “Jesus said by your love for one another.”
Bishop Gordy said that on Oct. 31, 1999, the Lutherans and Roman Catholics signed the historic document, the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.
“Christians are redeemed by grace alone,” he said. “We are saved by God’s love and grace alone in order that we might live lives devoted for the good of our neighbor.”
“Lutherans and Catholics have now confirmed that we can and together should do the work of loving and serving our neighbor,” Bishop Gordy said.
He continued, “Tonight we gathered in ourselves pursuing the unity in which we have already been called. In a profound sense we don’t have to work and pray to be in unity with Christ. We have been given that unity in our baptism. That unity is God’s gift to us.”
The ecumenical service featured readings from the document “From Conflict to Communion” including the commitment to five imperatives—that Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity, let themselves continuously be transformed, seek visible unity, should jointly rediscover the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for our time and witness together the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.
“I’ve been involved with the ecumenical work in the church for many, many years,” Bishop Gordy said. “I think it’s what Jesus calls us to do.”
“I think it was a wonderful celebration and also a very reflective moment for us as Christians to remember that Christ is what unites us is stronger than anything that can divide us,” said Ashley Morris, associate director of the archdiocesan Office of Intercultural and Ethnic Diversity.
“I feel very heart-warmed and happy and so thrilled that we’re having this type of a service and praying together because we are all the same,” said Michelle Elsenbeck, of Lilburn, who is Lutheran. “We all have one God and we’re all part of the vine.”
“This was so needed, and I felt the ceremony was beautiful and wonderful,” said Jane Samuelson, a Lutheran from Buford. “We needed to do this. We have one God.”