It’s been more than 500 years since the Catholic family was splintered by the schism of the Reformation, and to this day Christian leaders are still trying to pick up the pieces.
“To the degree that we’re fractured, so too is our message weakened. That’s it in a nutshell,” said Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith, as he joined Christian leaders from the Lutheran, Anglican and Presbyterian churches for prayer service on Jan. 21 at McDougall United Church.
The service opened the 2018 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It included appeals for reconciliation and healing, Caribbean worship music, readings from Scripture focusing on freedom in Christ, and a symbolic chain-dropping ceremony to signify freedom from sin.
“The Lord gave his life that his people be brought together into unity. It’s only by God’s grace that unity is going to get re-established,” Archbishop Smith said, adding “the first, fundamental requirement in moving towards the full restoration of unity is prayer.”
“the first, fundamental requirement in moving towards the full restoration of unity is prayer.”
In 1517, Martin Luther, a Catholic priest and Augustinian monk, came to reject several teachings of the Church at the time, including the selling of indulgences by priests for the forgiveness of sin. Luther was excommunicated as a heretic.
However, over time, the Church has come to a point of re-examining Luther’s critiques made in the 16th century, in search of commonality – including worshiping together.
“I just think it’s so important that we get together like this,” said Rev. Christina Bellsmith, the minister of McDougall United Church who led the prayer service.
While there has been progress, the Christian church still needs to face problems of sexism and racism, she said.
For Rev. Scott Sharman, unity is essential to be credible messengers of reconciliation and forgiveness.
“If we aren’t able to do that amongst those that we share faith with, then our message won’t really have any integrity,” said Sharman, the ecumenical officer for the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton.
Bellsmith noted the multitude of Christian denominations that have been established since the Reformation. There are more than 47,000 in the world today, according to a study by Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, an evangelical Protestant institution in South Hamilton, Mass.
This year’s Prayer for Christian Unity service was organized by the Edmonton and District Council of Churches, and a collection was taken for the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Last October, leaders of Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican churches celebrated a prayer service commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. A collection during that service was donated to the EDCC’s No Room at the Inn project, an annual fundraising campaign which helps those who are at risk of homelessness in the Edmonton area.