Rev. Eldon Boldt and Bishop Don Bolen lit candles from a central Christ candle to open the worship service at Circle Drive Alliance Church. Credit: Kiply Lukan Yaworski ~ Nov. 14, 2013
Music ministry at the Evangelical-Catholic service at Chricle Drive Alliance Church ~ Nov. 14, 2013
Music ministry at the Evangelical-Roman Catholic service at Circle Drive Alliance Church was provided by musicians from both traditions ~ Nov. 14, 2013
Lenna Rutherford ~ Nov. 14, 2013
Rod Alm, Campus Crusade for Christ ~ Nov. 14, 2013
Angèle Regnier, Rod Alm, André Regnier: the Regniers describe launch of Catholic Christian Outreach ~ Nov. 14, 2013
Nicholas Jesson, recently appointed as the bishop’s assistant for ecumenical relations in the Catholic diocese of Saskatoon, and Brendon Gibson, pastor of adult discipleship at Emmanuel Baptist Church (l-r) spoke about the Catholic-Evangelical dialogue group and the work on a joint statement ~ Nov. 14, 2013
Bishop Don Bolen (left) and Rev. Eldon Boldt standing before the candles each carried in procession at the second Catholic-Evangelical worship service ~ Nov. 14, 2013
Bishop Donald Bolen and Pastor Eldon Boldt lead the recessional after the Evangelical-Catholic service ~ Nov. 14, 2013
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“Fellowship of the Burning Heart” – second Catholic-Evangelical Shared Worship Service held, as local dialogue continues
— Nov. 15, 201315 nov. 2013
By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, RC Diocese of Saskatoon
What one speaker described as a “fellowship of the burning heart” was evident Nov. 14 in the spirit of joy characterizing the second Catholic-Evangelical worship service to be held in Saskatoon, this time hosted by Circle Drive Alliance Church.
The reference to the gospel story from Luke about the disciples on the road to Emmaus – who felt their hearts burning within them at the words of the resurrected Jesus Christ – resonated during the celebration of joy and thanksgiving for shared Christian faith and love of God’s word.
The celebration began with Evangelical leaders entering down one aisle, and Catholic leaders down another. Rev. Eldon Boldt of Circle Drive Alliance and Saskatoon Catholic Bishop Donald Bolen then each lit a candle from a central candle, symbolizing Christ.
When the celebration ended, the two leaders carried out the lit candles in the unity of a procession of both Catholic and Evangelical Christians down a single aisle.
The worship that happened in between those two symbolic processions included spirited music ministry led by a combined group of musicians from both Evangelical and Catholic churches.
Scripture passages from Isaiah, First Corinthians and Acts were read by Barbara Douglas, Lenna Rutherford and Mary-Anne Rogers – verses focusing on the joy of the Good News, the importance of following Christ rather than splitting into factions, and the call of Christ in sending forth his disciples as witnesses to the world.
Rev. Bernard de Margerie, a Catholic priest and founder of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism in Saskatoon, led a penitential prayer, before speakers stepped forward to give common witness.
Longtime friends Rod Alm of Campus Crusade for Christ and Catholic Christian Outreach founders Angèle and André Regnier spoke together about the fruit of their common love of Jesus Christ and their efforts to evangelize young people on university campuses.
Alm described his own personal encounter with Jesus Christ as a university student who got involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, launching a lifetime of following Christ’s “great commission” to evangelize others.
After providing ministry for some years in B.C., Alm returned to Saskatchewan. In 1987, working with Athletes in Action Ministry in Saskatoon, Alm met Angèle, who was at that time student president of Campus Crusade for Christ, and André, a young Catholic member of the Husky wrestling team.
“I discovered that André was as passionate about Jesus as I was,” Alm described. “We began to grow together.” Angèle initiated a presentation held at the high school in her home town of Leask, featuring varsity athletes speaking about their faith – a group of athletes that included André, Alm described.
“I think we went to about 100 high schools throughout the province, it was just amazing,” he said. “We had this diverse group from all sorts of different denominations.” Individuals involved in the ministry did not always agree about everything, but Alm described how André recognized that what all held in common was Jesus, and how he clarified that “the only thing that matters is that Jesus is proclaimed.”
What do Catholics and Evangelicals hold in common? “It’s our love for Jesus,” said Angèle.
“I’ve often experienced this bond of Christ with brothers and sisters of any denomination when you get a chance to just share over coffee how you have come to know Christ,” she said. “You know that they love the same Jesus that you love. It’s compelling.”
The other bond that crosses denominations is the bond of mission, Angèle added. “Being on campus we have worked collaboratively with our brother and sister evangelical groups: we pray together, we minister together… it’s a fellowship of the burning heart.”
She described how these two aspects – the centrality of Jesus and mission – also bonded her to André, whom she eventually married. Angèle also became a Catholic.
Her own small-town Saskatchewan background had already disposed her to collaboration, and openness among Christian denominations, she noted, describing Leask. “Four hundred people and seven churches: that means for anything to happen in the community… it had to be done collaboratively. That’s how I was raised.”
As an Evangelical Christian coming in to the Catholic Church, Angèle said it was very important to her to learn what the Church taught about salvation, and about all of the aspects of Christian faith that meant so much to her. “I can tell you the leap wasn’t as great as I thought, once I began to understand what the Church taught.”
Angèle also described how she shared with André the training and tools that she had received through Campus Crusade for Christ.
Using those tools, the two of them launched Catholic Christian Outreach on the University of Saskatchewan campus 25 years ago. The mission of CCO is to bring university students into a relationship with Jesus Christ, equip them to live in the fullness of the Catholic faith, and build them up as leaders in evangelization. CCO is now present on 11 campuses across the country, with plans to next expand to the University of Victoria in 2014.
André Regnier then described his own faith journey, of his Catholic roots, and entering into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He described how he developed a zeal for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus, and the inspiration he received from Campus Crusade for Christ. “I am eternally grateful for what they have done for me. They opened my eyes and my heart, they helped me to root myself as a follower of Christ.”
This seemed out of step from the Catholic faith he was raised with, until he was further inspired when someone shared with him a papal letter from Pope Paul VI entitled “Evangelii Nuntiandi” – “on evangelization in the modern world.” André said he suddenly began to realize how seriously his own Catholic tradition took the mission of evangelization.
“The Church exists in order to evangelize. It is our deepest identity. It is our very nature as Catholics to be Evangelical,” said André, “Meaning we have to make Jesus known here and to the ends of the earth.”
The sense of urgency about the need for evangelization was further enflamed by the teachings of Pope John Paul II, André described.
“He saw that this is a moment for the Church to direct all her energies to evangelization… this great need to make Jesus known to all people.”
Reaching out to Catholics on campus as part of that mission described by John Paul II was the motivation for starting Campus Christian Outreach, he said. “There are thousands upon thousands of our people who have wandered away, who do not know. There is much work to be done.”
Nick Jesson, recently appointed as the bishop’s assistant for ecumenical relations in the Catholic diocese of Saskatoon, and Brendon Gibson, pastor of adult discipleship at Emmanuel Baptist Church, stepped forward together to describe the work of a local Catholic-Evangelical study and dialogue group.
Jesson described the history of Evangelical-Catholic relationship in the city of Saskatoon, listing pioneers of dialogue, noting deepening friendship and pointing to moments of encounter and common witness. “The walls that once divided us have begun to fall. It is my firm conviction that this is a work of God,” he said.
At the first Catholic-Evangelical service at St. Paul Cathedral in March 2011, the two communities promised that they would gather again to pray, to talk and to witness together, Jesson related, describing how not long after, a 20-member dialogue and study group was created, chaired by Jesson and by Pastor Harry Strauss of Forest Grove Community Church. The group has continued to meet over the past two years.
“At each of the meetings we had a meal together, shared in prayer and studied an issue that has been an area of difficulty or division between us,” he described. “Our purpose is not to resolve the differences or to decide who is right and wrong. At the beginning our purpose was just to get to know each other better.”
“The most important discovery of our time together has been the great extent of our common faith,” he said. “It is true that there are still some major issues about which Evangelicals and Catholics cannot agree. But it is our conviction that focusing on the issues which divide us obscures our witness to the central truths of faith in Jesus Christ.”
The dialogue group is now drafting a common statement of faith, Jesson said. The group hopes to share the statement in 2014, hopefully garnering endorsement from churches involved in the dialogue. The draft statement is in three parts: first a profession of common faith in fundamental truth, second an acknowledgment of differences, and finally affirming a commitment to common mission, he described.
“Catholics and Evangelicals are sharing in faith and life together already,” Jesson affirmed, citing connections made in local ministerial groups, neighbourhood Bible studies, in workplaces and coffee shops, in communities and families.
There are also theological dialogues happening at different levels, he added, bringing a message of prayer support from the national group, meeting in Toronto at the same time as the Saskatoon worship service.
Gibson described his involvement in the Catholic-Evangelical dialogue. “I saw this as another step in a journey that I’ve been on for over a decade: that journey has been one of a deepening appreciation for the Body of Christ – beyond the enclave of my Evangelical community.”
Over time, the myths about Catholics and mainline Protestants that he was raised with have been dispelled, Gibson said. “I discovered people who loved Jesus deeply and were committed to loving others and helping them to experience the fullness of life that comes from Jesus.”
When he heard the newly-appointed Catholic bishop speak at a meeting of the Saskatoon Evangelical Ministers Fellowship (SEMF) three years ago: “I heard a man whose heart was filled with love for Jesus, and for His Word, and for his people… and I thought, this man is as evangelical as I am.”
Therefore, Gibson welcomed the opportunity to be involved in the dialogue group. “It has been a deeply stimulating and enriching experience for me,” he said.
“Our differences in practice and belief – though very real – do not diminish or displace those things that we hold in common, which are a commitment to love and worship the Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit; a commitment to follow Jesus, in whose life, death and resurrection and ascension the love and mercy and grace of God was most fully revealed, and the commitment to follow the Spirit as He draws us in to the mission of God in and for the world,” Gibson said.
Another participant in the dialogue, Rev. Bill Blackmon of the Evangelical Ministers Fellowship then led a prayer for the ongoing effort of the dialogue group and for greater unity between all Christians.
Rev. Eldon Boldt and Bishop Don Bolen spoke closing words of affirmation.
Boldt emphasized the difference between resolving and reconciling. “On this side of eternity we may not resolve some matters of doctrine, and certainly this is not unique to Catholics and Evangelicals, it happens even among Evangelicals,” he said.
“But reconciliation focuses on honouring relationships and working together where we do have agreement. Reconciliation is respecting each other in spite of our differences. It moves beyond toleration of each other, to understanding of each other’s positions. Reconciliation therefore acknowledges pain when we are not in unity.”
Bolen thanked Circle Drive Alliance for the hospitality extended to the Catholic community. “We are deeply moved, and we rejoice,” he said.
“We are very mindful that we stand on the shoulders of many people who have taken steps toward the other, over decades,” Bolen added. “This is a city where many, many people have tried to bridge what to some degree is a false chasm between us, and who have courageously moved forward.”
“Angèle spoke about the ‘fellowship of the burning heart’ and I think that is a beautiful metaphor for us as disciples on the road to Emmaus,” said Bolen. “It is because the Lord desires us to be one that we walk together and learn to walk together.”
Bolen summarized steps that Christians are called to take on the road to unity: to talk to each other, to gather in prayer when appropriate, to give common witness, to more regularly engage in common mission, and to grow in friendship.
These efforts are not about compromise, negotiation or seeking the lowest common denominators, Bolen stressed.
“What we are doing in fostering closer relations is standing together before Christ, we are opening ourselves and summoning the same Holy Spirit, praising the same Father. Let us strive to be faithful, let us love God, let us love one another as the Lord has taught us, and let us learn a little more each day about how to walk together as disciples of Jesus Christ our Lord.”