By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
MEDlAPOLIS — Deacon candidate Andrew Reif organized an ecumenical prayer service in the small community where he lives and works for the opportunity to celebrate the Christian faith he shares with many of the community’s members.
As vocal instructor for grades 7-12 at Mediapolis Community School District, he teaches or has taught the children of some of the pastors of various Christian denominations. Those connections and his work with an ecumenical youth group proved helpful in organizing his community’s response to the worldwide Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on Jan. 23.
Clergy from four Christian denominations, family and friends participated in the prayer service held in Clover Creek Event Venue in Mediapolis. A pastor suggested that venue as a neutral gathering space to celebrate. Reif invited two of his middle school students, children of one of the pastors, to do readings at the prayer service.
Reif, a member of St. Mary Parish in Dodgeville, said his small parish is the only Catholic community between Mediapolis and Burlington on U.S. 61, so he thought it was important to connect with the other Christian communities.
He sees a greater need now for Christians to come together, “to lean on one another, support one another and see what we have in common.” He believes Christians of all denominations benefit from asking themselves, “Why am I choosing this faith and what would help me to see the light shine clearer?” The shining light references the 2022 theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: “We Saw the Star in the East, and We Came To Worship Him.”
The Middle East Council of Churches chose the theme, based on a passage from Matthew’s Gospel, with input from the Christians of Lebanon, Reif explained in an email to participating clergy prior to the event. “In a time when the future of the Christian faith in Lebanon is unsure, we are called to come together despite our differences in traditions and pray for all Christians of the world. While we have our own faith communities, we can be assured of our faith in the one true God and His love for us by sending his Son to redeem us.”
The annual commemoration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has its roots in the Church Unity Octave, developed by Servant of God Father Paul Wattson, SA, at Graymoor in Garrison, New York, in 1908, according to Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute.
Collaboration between the World Council of Churches and the Vatican on common texts for worldwide usage began in 1966. Since 1968, Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute has developed, adapted and published texts for use in the United States, based on themes proposed by ecumenical groups around the world, according to its website. The goal is to encourage the Christian community worldwide to pray in communion with the prayer of Jesus “that they all may be one” (John 17:21).
Reif invited the Rev. Jerry Collell, interim pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Mediapolis, to give the sermon because of his ecumenical work, including as pastor of Free Indeed prison congregation in Anamosa State Penitentiary. Pastor Collell embraces this philosophy: “The more diverse the presence of the body of Christ, the more the body of Christ is present.”
Prior to the sermon, Father Denis Hatungimana, a Tanzanian priest serving in the Davenport Diocese, read a Scripture passage. Rev. Collell appreciated the priest’s presence. Diversity, both geographic and demographic, add tension to the quest for unity, he said. “Diversity doesn’t make it easier, it makes it deeper.” He also appreciated participating in the prayer service. “I gain energy from that kind of coming together.”
Father Marty Goetz, pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in Burlington-West Burlington and St. Mary Parish in Dodgeville, also participated in the service. “I did find it good to come together with other Christian brothers and sisters and share our common faith in Jesus to pray and worship,” he said.
Kent Ferris, a deacon candidate who serves as the Ecumenical/Interreligious Affairs Officer for the diocese, thanked Reif for organizing the local event. “I hope there will be more such events during this annual prayer week in the future.”
Reif hopes more Christians will participate in ecumenical events like this one and take to heart “what we share in common, our belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and our reverence for sacred Scripture.”