Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
October 15, 2001
Calgary builds on ecumenical pact
Covenant '96 led Lutherans, Anglicans and RCs to work together
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
CALGARY — When a historic agreement of cooperation was signed between the Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans in southern Alberta in 1996, the initiative came from the senior levels of the three mainline denominations.
Five years later, the three denominations are still struggling to make it work within local churches, a forum was told on Oct. 4 - the fifth anniversary of the signing of Covenant '96.
Nevertheless, significant gains have been made and the enthusiasm is greater than it's ever been, bishops from the three denominations told about 50 people attending the forum at St. Mary's College.
For instance, later this month churches in Medicine Hat will sign the covenant after initially declining to participate because of theological concerns.
A covenant signing ceremony will be held at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Medicine Hat on Oct. 21.
"I'm thrilled," says Anna Tremblay, director of the Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Commission for the Calgary Diocese. "I almost feel as if those guys are going to be the flagship for ecumenism in Alberta."
Tremblay hopes that more local initiatives will occur, not only between Anglicans, Roman Catholics and members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) — the country's largest Lutheran denomination, but with other Christian denominations as well.
"I'm trying to get people at the parish level to organize things rather than the diocese organize things," said Tremblay, who helped create the original covenant.
While priests and pastors complain that ecumenical initiatives are just "one more thing to do" in an already overburdened agenda of activities, Tremblay counters that it simply means looking at existing programs from an ecumenical perspective.
That doesn't mean, however, that churches simply invite their ecumenical cousins to come along, she says. It means having representatives from the three churches active in the programming.
The forum featured retired Anglican Archbishop Barry Curtis, Anglican Bishop Gary Woolsey, Lutheran Bishop Stephen Kristenson and Calgary Roman Catholic Bishop Frederick Henry.
Curtis, who initiated Covenant '96 and was one of the original signatories, began the forum by outlining how the document came to be.
He explained how it has given permission to members from the three denominations to work together in a framework of discipline in five key areas — moral, social, spiritual, intellectual and organizational. By doing so, it is a statement of unity that "Christ wills for his Church."
"We're not where we're supposed to be," he said. "We're not where we want to be. Thank God, we're not where we used to be."
Then he prayed, "I just have a profound prayer and a great hope that we can work more and more at giving flesh to it," Curtis said.
Henry then talked about how when he arrived in Calgary a few years ago, he was amazed to find that the bishops from the three denominations not only talked about ecumenism, they took action.
Since then, the bishops have been involved together in a National Day of Compassion for Seniors who have lost their autonomy as well as lending support to a coalition opposing VLTs. As well, they supported Henry when he tangled with newspaper magnate Conrad Black.
"I think by and large, the bishops involved with the initial signing were truly inspired leaders," said Henry. "Unfortunately, they were out in front of the rest of the clergy and people in the pews. It was primarily a top-down process."
Further, when Henry visited many Catholic parishes around the diocese who signed the covenant, he saw the documents hanging on church walls but few concrete signs where it had gone into effect. To provide encouragement, ecumenism has been a topic for priest study days.
As well, Henry also put Tremblay on staff. Tremblay's commission has helped organize Special Ecumenical Education Days. Held biannually, they've dealt with subjects like prayer and spirituality.
Henry talked about Pope John Paul's own vision for ecumenism. "He really thinks it's possible - complete unity," said Henry.
"Commitment to ecumenism is not an option but an essential part of the fabric of Catholicism," he said. "It's obviously a serious imperative from the Lord."
"The challenge is to let the call of ecumenism filter down and touch everything we do," he said. In particular, priority must be given to education, both of adults and school children.
The Catholic bishop also called for "spiritual ecumenism" by trusting the Spirit of God to lead all to closer unity.
There had been a number of overtures from other denominations about becoming involved, he said.
Anglican Bishop Woolsey, rector of St. Peter's Anglican Church in Calgary, pointed out how impetus from the covenant has blessed other ecumenical programs such as Fire in the Rose, Inn From the Cold and Feed the Hungry.
As clergy from all three denominations face increasing amounts of stress and burnout, Woolsey said the covenant is a tool to help clergy work together and share their burdens and concerns.
"The tendency under pressure is to be forced inward," he said. "But by looking outward, lead by the Spirit, maybe that is where life will come from."
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