By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor
Coming together in a spirit of Christian unity, the pastors and faithful of three Monmouth County parishes joined with their Protestant brothers and sisters in observing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
One observance held Oct. 24 brought together the communities that comprise the Manasquan Ministerium – St. Denis Parish, Manasquan; St. Mark Parish, Sea Girt, and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan – where they wrapped up yearlong “Roman Catholics and Lutherans In Conversation” anniversary events.
Recapping the past year, Father William Lago, pastor of St. Denis Parish, told of how Pastor Mary Farnham of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church invited him and Msgr. Sean Flynn, St. Mark Parish pastor, to a meeting where the joint document, “From Conflict to Communion” was introduced. Last October, the ministerium held a four-week series that addressed various aspects of the document in anticipation of the 500th anniversary. During the summer, the ministerium hosted a four-week Bible discussion based on the Sunday Gospel Readings that were the same for both churches. The latest offering was a three-week event based on the joint document, “Declaration On the Way,” in which the three pastors each addressed three topics of Church, Communion and Ministry.
“It has been very fruitful in helping us to know each other better and understand what we have in common, and what is still being discussed between the two churches,” said Father Lago, who then shared that the ministerium also began an ecumenical community garden on the grounds of St. Denis Parish and that it is tended to by “master gardeners” from St. Denis, Holy Trinity and Manasquan Methodist Churches.
Father Lago noted how the members from St. Denis Parish and Holy Trinity Lutheran Church are planning to work together in the future, saying, “The documents always speak about starting from what we hold in common and the pastors definitely modeled that in their talks and the parishioners from the three churches responded in kind and were so appreciative of the opportunity to come together in such a way.
“For me, if you never get together and talk, you’ll never move from conflict and communion,” said Father Lago.
In northern Monmouth County, similar ecumenical endeavors took place during the past year, bringing together the faith communities of Precious Blood Parish, Monmouth Beach, and Lutheran Church of the Reformation, Long Branch, for activities such as sharing fellowship and a meal, an evening of education and conversation, serving meals at The Center in Asbury Park, (a facility that provides outreach to persons with HIV/AIDS) and holding a service and hymn-fest followed by a potluck Octoberfest along with Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Red Bank.
To commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Precious Blood Parish and Lutheran Church of the Reformation concluded the yearlong observance with a Common Prayer Service held in Precious Blood Church on Reformation Sunday, Oct. 29. With Father Robert Kaeding, Precious Blood pastor, and Pastor Matt Cimorelli of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation presiding, the format of the prayer service the structure of the Common Prayer Service that was held in Lund, Sweden, and presided over by Pope Francis and Bishop Younan on Reformation Day, Oct. 31, 2016.
“Our churches have been in serious dialogue for some 50 years,” said Pastor Cimorelli, as he reviewed historical milestones such as the signing of the historic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in 1999, a document that also has been signed by the Methodist and Anglican communities. Then there was “From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017,” that was published in 2014 and called for an ecumenical commemoration of the 500th anniversary, and finally the service of Common Prayer on Reformation Day, Oct. 31, 2016.
“All of these things converged to make possible a true ecumenical observance of this anniversary, focused on honest dialogue about our agreements and differences, repentance for our parts in the schisms and mutual commitment to future ecumenical work,” said Pastor Cimorelli. As a result, he said, “It was important to find ways to give local expression to this larger movement in the Church.”
While Father Kaeding commented on the importance for churches to focus on what they have in common and not their differences, Pastor Cimorelli added, “It is our sincere hope that we will continue to build on this relationship and, as it states on the back cover of ‘From Conflict to Communion,’ ‘walk along the path toward the full, visible unity of the Church.’”