Ecumenical efforts during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

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"We should take every chance we get to be friends," said Father Donald J. Rooney, director of the diocesan Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. "The work of Christian humanism is the work of (building) relationships."

Father Rooney, who is also pastor of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg, has spent more than a decade advocating for Christian unity and interreligious dialogue. His most recent effort was organizing an ecumenical celebration at Mount Olivet United Methodist Church in Arlington Jan. 27.

Thanks to support from the Virginia LARCUM Conference, members of the Catholic, United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran and Episcopal communities gathered in honor of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Presiding bishops included Bishop Young Jin Cho, Virginia Conference, United Methodist Church; Bishop Richard Graham, Metro D.C. Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Bishop Ted Gulick, Episcopal Diocese of Virginia; and Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde. Steven K. Shaner, director, and Emily Dozier, cantor, were the ministers of music.

The Rev. Kathleen Royston, pastor of Mount Olivet, greeted the group before the service proceeded according to a script provided by the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Guided by John 4:7 ("Jesus said to her, 'Give me a drink.'"), the service featured readings, as well as hymns, prayers and an offering for the hungry and the poor.

In his sermon, Bishop Loverde said that, as Christians, we are all "called to nurture love for Christ. We do not fall in love with (the precepts or rules of religious practice) … we fall in love with persons."

He added that what unites Christians is the belief that "no matter how we have been in our following of Jesus, (no matter) what we have done (we know that He will) forgive us."

Father Rooney pointed to the celebration as an example of the diocese "standing by and holding the door open."

It was also an example of LARCUM members honoring their commitment to their covenant.

The 1,000-word agreement starts with the following preamble:

"We bishops are witnesses to two powerful experiences in our time which have impelled Lutherans, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, and United Methodists toward church unity: the Ecumenical Movement and the Second Vatican Council. The Holy Spirit continues to use these graced events to enlighten and form God's people as we begin the Third Millennium."

In addition to striving for Christian unity, the diocesan Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs opens up dialogue with members from non-Christian communities, such as Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews. Among these efforts is an annual interfaith panel called "In the Spirit of Assisi," which takes place at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle every fall.

"(Ecumenical and interreligious celebrations) allow us to get to know one another," said Father Rooney. "They allow us to grow."

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015