Mission has brought churches together for 25 years

For 25 years, the Strathcona County Ecumenical Mission has been helping Christians to form bonds with those of other churches.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

For 25 years, the Strathcona County Ecumenical Mission has been helping Christians to form bonds with those of other churches.

October 20, 2014
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

SHERWOOD PARK – The Strathcona County Ecumenical Mission has been the high point of church life in the county for the past 25 years. Christians look forward to it and attend in droves.

Attendance keeps growing. About 1,500 people from participating churches have been taking part in the mission events in recent years.

Ten churches from four denominations were represented this year, including Catholic, Anglican, United and Lutheran.

Worshipping together, learning together and growing together in Christ are important aims of the ecumenical mission held at churches in and around Sherwood Park.

Rita Sandmaier, this year's mission co-chair, said the ecumenical mission began in 1990 when the Edmonton Archdiocese asked if a parish would look at hosting an ecumenical gathering. "It was Sherwood Park that took that on."

Organizers invited Paulist Father Tom Ryan and Episcopal Canon William Derby to lead the first mission. To mark the 25th anniversary they re-invited Ryan and Derby, who led various events Oct. 5-8.

"Through this mission we worship in each others' churches and we experience each others' services," noted mission co-chair Bill Calder of Sherwood Park United Church. "We have come closer together."

Calder values the mission. "It's really the high point in the Church here. It's a time when you learn more and your faith is strengthened," he says.

"Over 25 years we've built up understanding and trust. We know each other and how we worship a lot better."

Participants have grown a great deal in their faith "because the mission brings in top calibre leaders from each of the denominations." Every year a different participating Church provides the mission leader.

REWARDING, ENRICHING

"People keep coming back because they find it rewarding and enriching," Calder said. "They wouldn't attend if they didn't, and we wouldn't keep it going if we didn't find it that way."

One thing that happens because of the mission is the realization "that we are all Christians worshipping together and that we respect each other," Sandmaier says. The mission helps Christians avoid becoming insular and to see a broader picture of their faith.

Moving beyond the annual mission, churches organized a collective attendance at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's hearings in Edmonton in the spring. They chartered two buses and more than 40 people attended from the various churches.

WORKING TOGETHER

"Many of those people wouldn't have gotten there at all if we hadn't organized it as a group. That's an example of how working together we can be more effective and do things better than individually," Calder said.

Sandmaier also points to a program called Companions on the Journey, an inter-denominational group that comes together every year in May to put a program on for the disabled and the elderly in the community. "This program has been going for years and definitely was an offshoot of the ecumenical mission."

Calder and Sandmaier said the ecumenical mission is planning to put on more ecumenical activities throughout the year.

"I believe that in the off-season we'll be reaching out to the community collectively. We are moving in the direction," Calder said.