By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
An ecumenical Covenant committing two Christian churches in southeast Saskatoon to walk together and to engage in ongoing joint action was highlighted and celebrated at a 20th anniversary celebration March 8, 2020.
The relationship between McClure United Church and Holy Spirit Catholic Church started soon after the two churches were established in the Lakeview neighbourhood some 55 years ago. That relationship was formalized through the development of a Covenant entered into by the two faith communities in March 2000, and has been lived out in a myriad of ways over the past 20 years.
The history of the covenant, its impact and meaning, and next steps forward were highlighted during the Sunday afternoon prayer service hosted by McClure United Church.
“In the name and Spirit of Jesus you have walked together on this road, learned from one another, and been teachers to all of us.” – Rev. Ron McConnell
In attendance were current leaders and members of both congregations, including several original members of the Covenant planning committee. Former pastors Fr. Bernard de Margerie and Rev. Ron McConnell, who were serving the two communities at the time of the covenant development and launch, were also in attendance. Each provided a reflection during the prayer service.
Beginning with an acknowledgment of treaty relationships on land we share, the prayer service included a call to prayer by Rev. Debra Berg of McClure United Church and a prayer of confession and of assurance by Fr. Darryl Millette, pastor of Holy Spirit Catholic Church.
Scripture readings were proclaimed by Fr. John Abban-Bonsu of Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:1-6) and by Rev. Laura Fouhse (John 17:20-23) followed by sermon reflections by Fr. Bernard de Margerie and Rev. Ron McConnell.
Retired diocesan priest de Margerie announced his reflection theme as “remember, so as to recommit,” beginning by recalling the history of the covenant and acknowledging the work of the joint Holy Spirit – McClure United joint coordinating committee.
“Some of you were certainly part of it back then, and trekked publicly in the snow in procession from Holy Spirit to McClure,” de Margerie said, recalling the Covenant’s inauguration day in March 2000. “Ron and I were also there, and were there happily, partaking in such a pioneering and intentional statement advancing Christian reconciliation and unity.”
The solemn signing of the Covenant charter 20 years ago between a Protestant reformed and a Catholic Church “followed the impulse provided by our larger jurisdictions, by the United Church of Canada and its chair of presbytery …and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon under its bishop, in the trail on the Catholic side blazed by a big meeting of all Catholic bishops in the 1960s that we call Vatican II,” de Margerie described.
“We remember how as the years passed by, the numerous trust building, worship, educational, social initiatives that stemmed from the Covenant,” he added. “There has been lots of effort, with some disappointments along the way, but with much joy and hope.”
Echoing the first reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, de Margerie said: “I pray that as a result of today’s prayer service we will be strengthened in our inner being, with power, in the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”
The primary issue on the path of Christian reconciliation and unity is to respond in Christ to God’s love and to become his faithful loving people, stressed de Margerie. “Institutional things come after.”
He added: “Friends, what a weight of grace is revealed here – grace to become the Body of Christ.”
De Margerie also reflected on the current ecumenical situation. “The commitment of the churches at the present time to healing the wounded unity of the Body of Christ is ebbing low, both worldwide and locally. From what I can see there are no substantial new initiatives, no conspicuous new energy surging,” he said, noting that churches are more intently concerned about their own denominational survival and mission than about committing vision, energy and resources to Christian reconciliation and unity.
He also pointed to exceptions, including a statement being developed provincially among the Anglican, Lutheran and Roman Catholic denominations, and an upcoming Pentecost 2020 ecumenical worship service planned for May 31 at Sasktel Centre in Saskatoon.
To conclude, de Margerie offered “some advice from an old Christian unity warrior” stressing the crucial roles of both ordained and lay leadership. “Start again to break open the Word of God about unity, No spiritual energy in our people – no spiritual energy for Christian reconciliation and unity — will surge, if the Word of God about it is not preached, strategically and with conviction.”
As his final prayer, de Margerie quoted words from Vatican II: “The global church places its hope entirely in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, and hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured forth in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Former McClure United Church pastor Rev. Ron McConnell (who is presently serving in Outlook, SK) also reflected on the Covenant between the two churches, and how it has been lived out over the past 20 years.
“The support and prayers of the wider church – Catholic and United – and the ongoing commitment and support and prayers of the wider church and the wider church leaders remains vital in strengthening and deepening the Covenant relationship,” he said.
“I see in my mind’s eye and hold in my heart all those who were among the first members of the joint Holy Spirit and McClure ecumenical steering committee. I remember their detailed faithful service in crafting the words of this Covenant and I remember each person who has served on this committee over all the years. You have witnessed to the love of God and Jesus Christ which calls us to reconciliation and unity as being a labour of love. I know it has provided you with much hard work and many happy memories, great joy and no small frustrations, breakthroughs and boredom, the need for confession and the opportunity to forgive. In the name and Spirit of Jesus you have walked together on this road, learned from one another, and been teachers to all of us.”
Support for this Covenant has become “part of our shared identity,” McConnell noted, pointing out that all position descriptions for McClure United Church ministers include a requirement to support the Covenant and the relationship with Holy Spirit Catholic Church.
“During 19 years of ministry here at McClure, the great gift of the covenant for me was to fell part of and to feel the love and support of two church families,” he said. “My fondest memories include marriage and baptism services at Holy Spirit, when I was invited by the priests to support pastorally our families with both Catholic and United Church members.”
McConnell also recalled powerful joint studies held by the two congregations of reports produced by the national Roman Catholic/United Church dialogue groups, on topics such as the baptismal formula, the role of authority and the role of Mary.
“For me the most profound experience of this covenant has occurred when worshipping and preaching at Holy Spirit. As we all know, we cannot yet receive together the Eucharist – and indeed, this Covenant that we hold dear commits us in our practise to respect the teachings, the directives of our own and one another’s churches. Still, the times that I have felt closest to my Catholic brothers and sisters — especially with presiding priests — is when I have seen the pain reflected in their faces …. that far deeper pain which we all share together for the brokenness of Christ’s body, the brokenness of Christ’s church,” said McConnell.
“It is not ours to whitewash this brokenness and it is not ours to heal this wound lightly. Rather this is a wound, that if we truly love one another and love the church of Christ, we will continue to bear with – and for – one another, We will do this together until, God willing, we need bear this pain no more… We pray for the healing that only Christ can give.”
As for moving forward, McConnell quoted the Princeton proposal for Christian unity: “The call to serve the unity of the church is not premised on the likelihood of success — that is in God’s hands. Our present unity, however broken by our habits and traditions of division, already exists as a gift from God. Thus the unity that we seek will not be simply a human work. This is good news. For we can trust the promises of the gospel. Any true steps towards unity will be a manifestation of new life in Christ as he reconciles us in one body through the cross.”
Following their joint sermon, Fr. Bernard de Margerie and Rev. Ron McConnell went to the altar, and together they lit one candle from two flames.
The service continued with the praying of the Apostles’ Creed, a sign of peace, and a collection of a gift offering for the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism, which was acknowledged by PCE chair Mary Nordick, who brought greetings from the centre.
Mona Eremondi of McClure and Joanne Steckler of Holy Spirit then led prayers of intention, before the community prayed together the Lord’s Prayer.
Heather Desautels of McClure and Carol Pek of Holy Spirit — two original members of the original joint committee together read the Covenant out loud, as follows:
The Covenant reads as follows:
“In the name of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, we the people and clergy of McClure United Church and Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Parish, in response to the call of Jesus ‘that they may all be one and so that the world may believe that you have sent me,’ (Jn 17:21-23) join in a covenant of Christian love, understanding and faithfulness to the Gospel.
“In witness to the wider church and to the world: We acknowledge the fractured Body of Christ and the need for healing.
“We rejoice in the gift of unity that Jesus Christ gives us and we celebrate the real, though imperfect, communion that we share.
“We recognize the value of our respective traditions and pledge to encourage one another to grow in them in a manner that unites rather than divides.
“In joyful thanksgiving and with prayerful deliberation, we commit ourselves to live out and grow in the unity that Christ wills for us and we pledge to:
- Engage in regular public prayer for each other and for the unity of all Christians.
- Come together from time to time for shared prayer.
- Invite members of either faith community as welcome guests at the worship services of others, with participation according to the current discipline of each denomination.
- Engage in an exchange of preaching, music or other worship ministry at least once every six months.
- Enhance communication by sharing Sunday bulletin, newsletter and bulletin board materials.
- Plan joint educational activities to broaden our understanding of the theology of the church, including our respective beliefs and traditions.
- Share in joint social justice action on an ongoing basis.
- Promote and celebrate fellowship through social gatherings.
- Support and encourage the joint steering committee of our two faith communities in proposing creative ways to further enrich our common life and faith and in facilitating the review and renewal of this Covenant.
- Reflect on and celebrate this covenant on each anniversary.”
The entire assembly then proclaimed together: “Our prayer and vision is that this Covenant will serve the full communion of the Church as willed by Jesus Christ, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. We ask for God’s blessing on this solemn agreement between Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Parish and McClure United Church. May we be faithful to the Covenant to the honour and glory of God.”
The original members of the Covenant committee were acknowledged by Kenton Peterson, chair of Holy Spirit Parish Pastoral Council.
Bishop Mark Hagemoen addressed the gathering, before leading the praying of the Covenant Prayer. “May we continue to realize the fullness of what it means to profess that one Creed together,” he said. “The prophetic witness of unity among Christian churches is more needed than ever.”