We are part way through the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Jan. 18-25), an annual observance with over 100 years of history. Organized by the World Council of Churches, the week is a call for Christians to remember Jesus’ prayer for his disciples that “they may be one so that the world may believe” (see John 17:21). This year the theme is “Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit” (John 15:5-9). I have to say that this is tough year for me to think about Christian unity because there are, quite frankly, Christians who I do not want to be united with. But I wonder if this is like the text I would rather not preach on, which means I absolute should wrestle with it until fruit is born.
There is a history of ecumenism in this country, including the work of the National Council of Churches during the Civil Rights Movement. More recently, the documents created by the Wisconsin Council of Churches at the beginning of the pandemic guided me and many colleagues.
However, when I consider the ecumenism that gives me the deepest joy, I keep returning to ministry and work in local communities. A few years ago, I had a particularly ecumenical week and at the end of it I concluded that a few things were necessary even for ecumenism on the local level: shared ministry and/or relationships. Oh, and if gender equity was present, that would help.
I attended the Nampa Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast that year, primarily because of the speaker. Several of my friends are on faculty and staff at Northwest Nazarene University and I thought it would be interesting to hear President Joel Pearsall give the keynote address. There was an invocation, a benediction, and perhaps six prayers for things ranging from stewardship to youth and families. I have been the token woman prayer in the past. This year again, one woman was on the stage to pray. I knew only a few of the people at my breakfast table and around the room. After seven years I still felt like an outsider at this event. Yes, prayer is ministry but none of the prayers made me feel more united with those gathered.
Later in the week, Trinity hosted the installation of Deacon Diane McGeoch, coordinator of Learning Peace: A Camp for Kids and a contributor to tvprays.org. My colleague of many years, Rev. Karen Hunter, Grace Episcopal, gave a wonderful sermon in which she tied together the history of deacons (ministers of Word and Service) and the past and future of Learning Peace: A Camp for Kids. Local Methodist and United Church of Christ friends were on hand to present gifts. Lutheran colleagues drove from Boise, Mountain Home, and Star to read, sing, serve food, and support Diane. I had relationships with nearly everyone who participated, and we clearly had a shared ministry: Learning Peace.
Next, I embarked on the third tour and blessing of a variety of Nampa Community Gardens. We started at Trinity’s home garden and then proceeded to the Seventh Day Adventist Garden, Nampa First United Methodist Garden, the R3 Recovery Garden, and finally Grace Episcopal’s garden. We heard wonderful stories about God working through various ministries to draw people together, heal broken hearts, and of course feed hungry bellies.
Finally, I attended the Nampa Ministerial monthly luncheon, something that has sadly not continued in any way during pandemic times. We have worked cooperatively on community meals and the annual high school baccalaureate, but for me the fruit of this time is the relationships. I have known many of the people in the Nampa Ministerial since I started my call at Trinity in Nov. 2010. Though I was often the only woman clergy person in the room, I did not mind because the relationships outweigh my feeling of being out-of-place. It should be noted that it took about three years of monthly luncheons to build the relationships and for the shift to take place.
Those partnerships were so important for me during the year Trinity Lutheran began Trinity New Hope affordable housing. When Trinity’s leadership had to attend hearings with the Canyon County Commissioners about our tax-exempt status, one pastor came to my office to help me process, another pastor sent encouraging emails, four pastors actually came to the hearings and signed in for the record.
I am, by nature, curious about other denominations and I value collegiality. But for me, the most important reasons to build ecumenical and interfaith relationships is because when churches work together, our actions can accomplish more. We have more resources to care for the least among us. We can also find ways to speak with a unified voice.
In February, LEAP Housing, a local nonprofit working on affordable housing issues, is drawing together an ecumenical panel. This will amplify our voices as we talk about our work. Deacon Kat Tigerman, who directs Grace Episcopal’s The House Next Door, Rev. Karen Hunter, Pastor Joe Bankard of Collister United Methodist Church, Boise, and I will be the panelist for Yes in God’s Backyard. Why am I excited about this? Because I have relationships with all of these people, and we are united in our actual hands-on ministry. We pray that through the Holy Spirit, our words and ministry will bear more fruit in the years to come.
Let us pray...
O Christ, you take upon yourself all our burdens
so that freed of all that weighs us down,
we can constantly begin anew to walk
with lightened step,
from worry toward trusting,
from the shadows towards the clear flowing water,
from our own will towards the vison of the coming Kingdom.
And then we know,
though we had hardly dared hope it,
that you offer to make every human being
a reflection of your face.
(Prayer by Brother Roger of Taizé)