SALT LAKE CITY — Lutherans and Catholics from parishes throughout the greater Salt Lake area gathered to pray together at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church on Oct. 8, celebrating the reunification efforts that have occurred over the last 50 years in the light of the five centuries since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
Bishop Oscar A. Solis of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City and Bishop Jim Gonia of the Rocky Mountain Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, presided at the celebration, which was attended by many clergy from both churches. The music ministry was provided by a choir comprised of members from Mt. Tabor Lutheran Church, St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church and St. Ambrose Catholic Church.
As the clergy processed in, many of those standing in the pews joined the choir in singing “In Christ Alone” – a hymn familiar to congregants of both churches.
In recognition of the diverse nationalities represented by members of both churches, the Call to Worship and the second reading were given in Spanish, while the intercessory prayers were proclaimed in Spanish, Malagasy, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Korean, Portuguese and English. The program was bilingual English/Spanish.
After the Call to Worship, the presider welcomed all to the Common Prayer commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
“For over 50 years, Lutherans and Catholics have been on a journey from conflict to union,” he said. “With joy we have come to recognize that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. On this journey, mutual understanding and trust have grown so it is possible for us to gather today. We come with different thoughts and feelings of thanksgiving and lament, joy and repentance, joy in the Gospel and sorrow for division. We gather to commemorate in remembrance, in thanksgiving and in confession, and in common witness and commitment.”
Each bishop gave a homily.
Opening his remarks, Bishop Solis said he felt joyful and inspired “to see our unity and solidarity as one God’s family, especially as we gather in prayer to give praise to our loving God and to invoke His blessings for all of us and for the world.”
The polarization of society fragments the world, families, nations, politics, businesses and even sports, Bishop Solis said. “This is an alarming situation because of the extensive consequences it brings: war, hatred, racism, senseless violence, and worse, it causes suffering and the death of so many innocent lives. As leaders of our faith communities and believers in God, this poses a serious challenge to our common mission as ambassadors of His love and deeds, and to be the visible witnesses of peace and unity in our divided world.”
Therefore, “our ecumenical prayer service is in noble pursuit of the Christian unity that our faith communities have been working toward, closely together, for several centuries now,” he said, adding that the human endeavor must be aided by the grace of God.
“It is for this reason we gather here in prayer. We are gathered before God’s presence to help realize the value of our unity in faith in one God, Jesus Christ our Lord. Created as one God’s family, divisions among us His children and in our Church wounds the Body of Christ, and impairs our mission to be witness of communion in our world. Therefore, it is necessary to solidify our convictions that in Christ and with Christ we can never remain divided,” he said. “My dear friends, in time and history, God has been on our side. There is an ongoing and strong movement toward reconciliation, with a renewed commitment to continue in that direction. Lutherans and Catholics today enjoy a growth in mutual understanding, cooperation and respect. Our churches have come to acknowledge there are more commonalities that unite than divide us. Above all our differences we share a common faith in the Triune God and the revelation in Jesus Christ, recognizing the basic truths that our justification and salvation only come from God.
“May God listen to our prayers and bless us with the grace of reconciliation, unity and peace!”
In his homily, Bishop Gonia mentioned that the prayer service was the last of seven to take place in the Rocky Mountain Synod. He noted that the first took place in Santa Fe, N.M., and “you might know the archbishop, John Wester,” he said as the congregation laughed, recognizing the name of the previous Catholic bishop of the Utah diocese.
“So there’s something beautiful about concluding this series of services here in Utah,” Bishop Gonia said.
“As Lutherans and Catholics on this day in Salt Lake City, we’re making history, and history of a very good kind, and we give thanks to God for that,” Bishop Gonia added before continuing his homily with a reflection on the Gospel reading of Jesus as the vine and his disciples as the branches (John 15:1-5).
Noting that individual branches may look quite different, and even though they grow side by side, “it’s easy to forget that their source is the same,” Bishop Gonia said. “And the result of that forgetfulness – that forgetfulness of one source – is comparison and competition: ‘Well, my leaves are bigger than your leaves!’ ‘That’s OK. My grapes are juicier than your grapes.’ And so it goes, the branches relating in terms of us/them instead of living from that sense of holy ‘“we.’”
However, at the prayer service, “we remember with joy and thanksgiving the truth of our unity and connectivity as two particular branches of this one vine, branches that we call Lutheran and Roman Catholic,” Bishop Gonia said. “After centuries of division and rhetoric that was anything but Christ-like, in these last 50 years our two particular church bodies have made incredible strides towards recognizing the one life we share in Jesus. And as Bishop Solis has already noted, in a world that is filled with so much division and hatred, this is a reason to give thanks to God.”
In Utah, the two churches already work together, “especially when it comes to advocating for brothers and sisters struggling with poverty and marginalization in our society,” Bishop Gonia said. “We share common commitments to work among refugees and especially immigrants and the concerns that they bring to our attention. Together with other partner churches we have found opportunities to pray together already, to stand in solidarity with our neighbors of other religious traditions. Walking together along the way is not only good for us, but is indeed an important continuing commitment.”
Telling the story of his father, who served as an altar boy in the Catholic Church but was confirmed in the Lutheran Church so that he and his wife could be married in the same church, Bishop Gonia said the unification efforts matter on many levels, not only for individuals but for the whole church of Jesus Christ and for the world “into which God calls us in ministry and witness together.”
Echoing Bishop Solis’ sentiment, Bishop Gonia concluded with the hope that the Common Prayer “becomes our way of life as Christ’s church, for the sake of the One in whom we abide, for the sake of the One who so patiently and lovingly abides in us.”
After the homilies, Pastor Steve Klemz of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church lit a candle as each of the five imperatives found in the document “From Conflict to Communion” was read, symbolizing the Light of Christ shared by all Christians.
Following the intercessory prayers and a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, the sending forth occurred as the choir and congregants sang “A Mighty Fortress.”
The local prayer service was modeled after the Oct. 31, 2016 service celebrated at the Lutheran cathedral in Lund, Sweden by Pope Francis and leaders of the Lutheran global body that recognized the document “Declaration on the Way,” which demonstrates the progress the two churches have made in several crucial areas, Bishop Gonia said.
The service touched, in a personal way, many who attended.
Mike Cena, a member of Zion Evangelical who frequently attends Mass with a Catholic friend, said it was joyful because it made him think of his parents, one of whom was Lutheran and the other Catholic.
“In heaven, I know my parents are smiling, that we’re together in unity for the love of Christ,” he said.
Similarly, St. Vincent de Paul parishioner Rozanne Broomhead said the event was wonderful. She attended with her son and his wife, who are members of Zion Evangelical, and she welcomed the opportunity to worship with them, she said, adding, “I think that it’s the best thing that has happened in generations. It is wonderful. I wish we’d all get on one page.”
Editor’s note: Transcripts of the homilies of both bishops are available on the Intermountain Catholic website.