Anxiety undermines efforts for church unity — Lutheran

January 31, 2011
Fr. Greg Bittman, chancellor of the Edmonton Archdiocese, the Rev. John Pasma of the Christian Reformed Church, the Rev. Ryan Sato of the Baptist Church and the Very Rev. Phillip Eriksson of the Orthodox Church in America were among local Church leaders leading the January 23 prayer service.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

Fr. Greg Bittman, chancellor of the Edmonton Archdiocese, the Rev. John Pasma of the Christian Reformed Church, the Rev. Ryan Sato of the Baptist Church and the Very Rev. Phillip Eriksson of the Orthodox Church in America were among local Church leaders leading the January 23 prayer service.

CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

EDMONTON — Anxiety is one of the greatest threats to Christian unity, says the Lutheran pastor who led the Jan. 23 service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Churches are suffering from anxiety over tight budgets, declining attendance and a world that pushes Christian faith to the fringe, said the Rev. Randy Meissner.

"If the goal of this week is to encourage Christians of all denominations to build bridges and find common mission, then anxiety is one of unity's greatest threats," said Meissner.

"Anxiety leads to survivalism, and churches that strive merely to survive end up building walls around themselves, mistrusting their neighbour, competing with sister churches for members and influence. In short, anxiety is bad for unity."

The counter to anxiety is joy, said Meissner. The early Church's joy was the foundation and groundwork for all they did.

About 220 people attended the service held at Hosanna Lutheran Church in Edmonton's west end.

Participating in the service were Roman Catholics, Ukrainian Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and members of the Christian Reformed Church, Salvation Army, Moravian Church, and Orthodox Church in America.

IDEAL VISION

The theme for this year's unity week, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teachings and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers," is from Acts 2.42.

Meissner said the early Church described in Acts is the ideal vision of a church.

"If there was ever a golden moment for the Church of Jesus Christ, if there was ever a glimmering sliver of the perfect Church that we all long for, a Church fully in tune with the Spirit of God, here it is," he said.

"The great news for us is that the Lord of Acts 2 is ours today," said Meissner. "The great news for us is that we are still his Church."

The pastor said joy is the answer to the anxiety besetting the Church today.

"I vote for joy, joy in each other's work in the kingdom of God, joy as we bear witness to what Christ is doing in his Church, the one that I attend and serve, as well as the one my neighbour attends and serves."

Dr. Joy Berg said the prayer service was important because it served as a reminder that Christians are followers of Christ - a commonality regardless of denomination.

"It's an important week," said Berg. "The idea of being a community of churches and working together, rather than a single congregation trying to be as big as it can be, is the most important thing."

Berg teaches music at Concordia University College and is interim music conductor at Hosanna Lutheran. Eight different church bodies, mostly from west Edmonton, contributed to the collective choir at the Jan. 23 service.

"It was very exciting for me. I am most enthused by singing because that's just who I am, and the singing here tonight was fantastic, from both the choir as well as the congregation," said Berg.

The Revs. Ray Christenson and Cliff Guebert, both retired Lutheran pastors, led the planning for Edmonton's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Rev. Randy Meissner

DOWNTOWN PRAYER

Christenson decided events ought to be held throughout the week. Therefore, noon hour prayer sessions were held daily, Jan. 17-21, at downtown churches, building momentum for the evening prayer service.

From a global perspective, Christenson said that striving for unity among all Christians is necessary to the well-being of the world.

"The week is crucial because if this world is going to find any unity or peace, surely the major religious groups, including Christianity, are going to have to demonstrate that we are able to achieve this visible, deep unity amongst ourselves," Christenson said.

DISCOVERING UNITY

"How do you expect the world to find unity if the spiritual traditions aren't discovering and expressing it?"

Unity among Christian denominations does not necessarily mean organizational unity, he said. But there must be a unity of spirit, attitude, and working for justice and peace.

"The ecumenical movement is a relatively new phenomenon of the last century. For Roman Catholics to be along with us is quite amazing," said Christenson.

The Church Unity Octave, a forerunner of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, was initiated by Father Paul Wattson, in Garrison, N.Y., and was first observed in 1908.

This movement caught the imagination of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, gradually blossoming into a worldwide observance.