In an article for the Faith Forum in November of 2014, I was looking ahead and noted that 2017 is the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. In that article I raised the question, Is this something to celebrate? Or is this an occasion for confession and renewed efforts for greater unity... between Christians, and between Christians and other traditions? I answered, “Yes.”
Now almost two years later and half way through this anniversary year, it is important to ask, what has happened and how has it served greater unity among Christians and between Christians and other faith communities for the common good?
First, a quick sampling: internationally, Lutherans and Roman Catholics, including Pope Francis and the President and General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation gathered in Lund, Sweden for Common Prayer that included confession of past failings and affirmation of five imperatives for greater unity and service. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) adopted a Reformation Challenge to sponsor 500 refugees to Canada, plant 500,000 trees, provide 500 scholarships for young people from Israel Palestine to attend school, and provide $500,000 to the Lutheran World Federation for future justice, development, and advocacy work. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the ELCIC produced a joint study, “Together in Christ,” which in Victoria became an ecumenical study in Lent, hosted each week by one of five congregations – St. Luke Anglican, Holy Cross Roman Catholic, Grace Lutheran, Knox Presbyterian and Lutheran Church of the Cross. The gatherings of ninety plus people each week overwhelmingly supported doing more together in the future.
This is just a sample of the many events and efforts, from local to global, of worship, service, learning, and support to commemorate the Reformation Anniversary, both its failings and its gifts to the church and the world.
The ELCIC’s biennial National Convention in July included ecumenical leaders from the Anglican, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and United churches as well as the Canadian Council of Churches and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The president of the Mennonite Church Canada preached at the opening worship. He said, “Look at this, an Anabaptist preaching on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, who would have imagined.” Who would have, when only a few years ago we as Lutherans issued an apology to Mennonites for our persecution of them during the time of the Reformation?\
An ecumenical panel of the leaders mentioned reflected on the next 500 years, and the future together. These same leaders participated in a National Reformation Commemoration Worship held in a Roman Catholic Church. They joined in a thanksgiving for Baptism by pouring water together into the font and making the sign of the cross on one another. Roman Catholic Archbishop Richard Gagnon read the gospel and ELCIC Bishop Susan Johnson preached. All of the ecumenical guests joined in the prayers of the people. And Bishop Susan presided at the communion table open to all. Who could have imagined this, 500, 50, even 5 years ago?
And at this same convention the assembly adopted A Statement to Muslim People in Canada and Interfaith Guidelines for Encountering People of Other Faiths.
There are many more examples, and there is much more to be done to continue reforming together toward greater unity and service for the good of the world. And to all of it, my response is a heartfelt, Yes! and thanks be to God.
Rev. Lyle McKenzie is pastor of Lutheran Church of the Cross of Victoria and part-time chaplain in Multifaith Services at the University of Victoria.
You can read more articles from our interfaith column, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
*This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, August 5 2017