Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 31, 2000
Unity service shows ecumenical strength
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Edmonton Christians marked the jubilee version of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity by providing the largest crowd ever for the annual city-wide ecumenical service.
Nearly 1,200 people from several Christian churches gathered at St. Basil's Ukrainian Catholic Church for a worship service Jan. 23. More than 600 stayed for the unity supper that followed.
"This shows that the momentum for unity among Christians is increasing," said Cathy Harvey, ecumenical coordinator for the Edmonton Archdiocese. "It shows the movement towards Christian unity is very alive."
Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Lawrence Huculak presided at the service, which had the theme Gathered In Christ.
Other area Church leaders who participated in the service included Archbishop Thomas Collins, Evangelical Lutheran Bishop Stephen Kristenson, Anglican Bishop Victoria Matthews, United Church leader Debra Morris, Russian Orthodox Archbishop Mark Petrovtsi, Presbyterian Church moderator Millie Seitz, Greek Orthodox leader Rev. Constantine Siaripis and Ukrainian Orthodox Archbishop John Stinka.
"O God, you have gathered us together from different churches that we might listen to you, pray to you, and praise you with united hearts and voices," prayed Basilian Father Gregory Hrynkiw during the gathering.
"This new millennium will be a special time for Christian unity as the past millennium was characterized by disunity," Huculak said in his homily, calling for a dialogue of truth and love similar to the dialogue God held with Adam and Eve.
Looking at the crowd, the bishop said he was impressed by the large numbers and admitted that a few days before the service the organizing committee "was nervous," not knowing how many people would show up at the service.
Leaders from all denominations led prayers throughout the service with United Church leader Rev. George Rodgers leading a prayer for the new millennium and Bishop Matthews leading a prayer for the world.
Lit candles were offered to each leader as a sign of unity and peace while St. Basil Parish Choir led the congregation in song.
About $1,700 collected at the prayer service will go to No Room at the Inn, an inner city housing project.
When the hour-long service came to an end, about half the congregation made their way to the church hall for a supper to celebrate the unity achieved and to welcome in the new millennium.
At the supper, first-year university student Anne Harvey called on leaders and parishioners to work for unity.
"Despite their differences, Christians must promote reconciliation, unity and understanding among their churches and with other religions through prayer, study and dialogue," the 19-year-old said.
"Christian churches will not come together as one Church. This is simply not realistic. What they can do is work together in mutual respect of one another for the greater good of all, especially beginning the new millennium."
Margaret Collisson and her husband Bruce, both Presbyterians, attended the prayer service and the dinner to pray for Christian unity and to share with other Christians.
"Unity is the only way to go," Margaret Collisson said. "Being together (as churches) makes us strong."
Ollie Diachuk and her husband Bill came to the service and dinner "to pray for unity in the Church community."
"We are not close to achieving unity but we are making progress," Ollie said. "This is one little step toward unity."
Archbishop Collins was impressed by the large turnout.
"It's wonderful to see the large number of people who have come for this event," he said in an interview. "I think it's a sign of hope that we can work together in so many ways, we can pray together and cooperate in the mission that our Lord has given to us."
Bishop Matthews said the fact people from different Christian denominations gather to pray and dine together "re-emphasizes that we do indeed have a common identity."
"We are who we are whether it's Anglican or Orthodox, United or Roman, because we have our identity in Jesus Christ," she said.
Father Stephen Wojcichowsky, who emceed the supper, has been attending Christian Unity Week's prayer services for eight years and said "this is by far the best attended of them."
"This shows churches are taking very strong steps to achieve unity," he said, describing the service "as very prayerful and uplifting."
"I think it lifted people beyond their differences," he told the WCR. "In a sense it was a service that took us beyond the boundaries. It really made everyone present connect from whatever tradition they were coming from."
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is one of the oldest and most widely observed ecumenical events in the world. Its roots can be traced to the 19th century.