Common prayer, praise, and thanksgiving
Hundreds of Lutheran and Catholic voices were raised in praise, prayer, and thanksgiving at the historic worship held this past Friday, October 27, at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. Joined together in a Service of Common Prayer, the worship included both bishops—the Rev. Dr. Timothy M. Smith, bishop of the NC Synod, ELCA, and Bishop Luis R. Zarama of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh—as well as shared leadership by deacons, lay leaders, and musicians.
The prelude music included performances by the Chelsea Chimes Handbell Choir and Geoffrey Simon, organist. The combined choir of more than 50 included members of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Chapel Hill; St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Durham; and St. Thomas More Catholic Church, Chapel Hill; singing Mendelssohn’s “Verleih uns Frieden” as an anthem. Trumpets, trombones, a flute, and a cello complimented the choral music, hymns, and responsive prayers. A collection of Lutheran and Catholic cantors led the congregation in singing including “Veni, Sancte Spiritus” and J.S. Bach’s “Psalm 130.”
Following the reading of the Gospel text from John 15:1-5 in which Jesus proclaims, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing,” both bishops brought words of comfort and challenge. Bishop Smith began by acknowledging our “conflicted complicity in the brokenness of the church” but reminded us that we are “always, always, always connected to the vine.” Bishop Zarama affirmed that promise saying, “Jesus and the Holy Spirit will guide us to the unity of the Church…the Lord is calling us!” (Listen to Bishop Smith’s sermon. Listen to Bishop Zarama’s sermon.)
One of the most touching portions of worship was the expression of five imperatives in which we commit ourselves to grow in communion. The imperatives were taken from the document”From Conflict to Communion: A Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017″ (a Report of the Lutheran–Roman Catholic Commission on Unity) and were read by five youth, Lutheran and Catholic, followed by the lighting of candles by the youth and their families. The five commitments shared were:
- Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced. (#239)
- Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith. (#240)
- Catholics and Lutherans should again commit themselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal. (#241)
- Lutherans and Catholics should jointly rediscover the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time. (#242)
- Catholics and Lutherans should witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world. (#243)
Following each reading, the congregation joined voices with this hymn verse: Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness. Christ, be our light! Shine in your Church gathered today.
Both bishops joined together in proclaiming the final blessing: The blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you and on your way together now and forever. Amen.
Following worship, a beautiful reception was provided for the gathered congregation which shared food, drink and fellowship together.