One of the things I love about attending the bi-annual meetings of the Canadian Council of churches are the morning and evening worship services we 60 delegates attend. Each of these services are authentic offering by the respective denominations; so for some of these experiences we witness Pentecostals leading us in praise, Orthodox believers introducing us to liturgical and symbolic expressions of faith, Friends (Quakers) offering more silence and less talk, Lutherans and Anglicans sharing their common language of worship that is bearing the fruit of their common Communion. These worship times are life giving and memorable.
Last night the Salvation Army Officers led us in evening worship. They gave us notice, they told us there would be a time of testimonies and asked us to consider a time when “God became real and transformative” to us. What I liked about the invitation, aside from the time to ponder and reflect, was how their massaged the question, broadened the question, to one all denominations could identify with. If they had just asked, “tell us the time when you were born again” or “tell us a time when you accepted Jesus into your heart” the responses might have been either awkward silence or worse, comments about how this type of expression is one that leaves many of us in the room feeling disconnected.
By using this authentically Salvation Army worship experience and at the same time using accessible language and broadening the question the Officers allowed all member church representatives to participate and ponder.
The first to speak was a Roman Catholic Bishop who shared that when he was in university he had a roommate who was a member of the Disciples of Christ. The roommate challenged him to read the Bible. The Bishop, who was not then active in his church, was taken aback by the request. But in time he did take the Bible offered, read it every day and from that experience feel a call to Ministry. The next to speak was a United Church Minister who shared a tension with a friend, a challenge to revisit his priorities. This Minister went to a meditation retreat and spent 9 hours of silence a day for a weekend. That experience “of the Divine” changed that Minister and repaired his friendship. The last to speak was a retired Disciples of Christ Minister who grieves his wife of 56 years who died last year. This widower felt the “light go out of his life”. In time members of many churches, and persons connected to no church, filled his evenings with calls, emails, visits, healing expressions of care. This grace-filled experience opened this retired Minister to the possibilities of the life to come.
When the service ended I heard from representatives who have been attending these meetings for more than a decade. They all said that this experience of ecumenism had been the most profound moment yet of the Spirit in their midst.
Amen to that.