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home : opinion : our neighbors' faith

1/18/2018 9:00:00 AM
OUR NEIGHBORS' FAITH
Ecumenism in the trenches
COMING HOME TO the renovated St. Mary's Church in Oneonta in December. (Nate Whitchurch photo)
COMING HOME TO the renovated St. Mary's Church in Oneonta in December. (Nate Whitchurch photo)
Jan. 18-25 is the 2018 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. There will be an ecumenical prayer service at the Albany diocesan Pastoral Center Jan. 24, noon.
BY REV. DAVID MICKIEWICZ


We were getting ready to close our church building for a few months for a full interior renovation. The parish had been waiting and preparing for years, and now it was here. We would celebrate Mass in the rectory basement on weekdays and in the school gym on Sundays. We were all set!

But what about funerals and those two weddings booked in the calendar a while back? The solution came from the generosity of other Christian communities.

St. Mary's is a block away from St. James Episcopal Church, First Presbyterian Church of Oneonta and Main Street Baptist Church. Our properties abut each other. The Rev. Kenneth Hunter, pastor of St. James; his wife and deacon of the church, Vicky; and the staff were more than welcoming in offering a fitting and beautiful place from which to bury our dead. After a while, I felt like I had a second parish and staff!

The Rev. Paul Messner of Atonement Lutheran Church was also accommodating in allowing us to use his church for a funeral in which there were connections with his community. How appropriate, as we mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, that Catholics and Lutherans can work together so closely after centuries of misunderstanding and animosity.

Members of my staff taught in the Lutheran Synod's summer school of theology at Hartwick College in Oneonta for a number of years.

The weddings were celebrated at St. James and at First Presbyterian Church -- thanks to the Rev. Mark Monfort -- when our renovations lasted longer than we thought. Anyone who has done a home renovation understands.

For nearly six months, St. James opened their church to us. That's ecumenism at its best! But, in Oneonta, this is not new. Clergy get together for an informal breakfast once a month, with no agenda. A group of us - two Episcopalians, a Baptist and two Catholics, which sounds like a joke -- have a reading group, discussing the thoughts of St. Augustine, Rabbi Jonathon Sacks and others once a month at a coffeehouse.

We support each other as three Christian communities -- the Salvation Army, Chestnut Methodist Church and St. James Episcopal -- share the task of providing a hot meal throughout the week to those who are hungry and seeking community. Members of St. Mary's parish take one Saturday a month to serve at the Methodist church. St. Mary's, the Salvation Army and St. James provide food pantries for people whose circumstances do not allow them to make ends meet. Numerous religious communities founded Caring Connections, an arm of Catholic Charities that offers services and financial and material assistance to individuals and families who are struggling to meet their basic needs.

St. James opened its doors to Catholics and Lutherans to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation as Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians and Presbyterians gathered to watch a movie on the life of Martin Luther, followed by a Q-and-A.

Through hospitality, sharing of facilities and addressing together the basic needs of human beings, the Christians of Oneonta live out our ecumenism. Though we have a continued journey to make toward full unity and sharing the common table of the Eucharist, I believe it is at this level of basic Gospel living and getting to know each other on a personal level that unity will send down deep roots into Jesus Christ.

The separations in the past between Christians, Orthodox and Catholic, Catholics and what came to be known as Protestants were caused more by mutual misunderstandings and a slow but growing distancing between ourselves. The journey back will take time, as well.

A shared drink at a coffeehouse or peeling potatoes side by side to prepare a meal for the hungry may allow us to move further toward the unity of Christians than anything else.

(Father Mickiewicz is pastor of St. Mary's parish in Oneonta.)





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