January 30, 2015

Christian leaders participate in prayer service at cathedral

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, second from left, Episcopal Bishop Catherine Waynick, Rev. Richard Spleth, regional minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Rev. Dr. Robert Welsh, ecumenical officer of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Rev. Heather Apel of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and Father Rick Ginther, director of the archdiocesan Offiice of Ecumenism, sing a hymn during an ecumenical prayer service on Jan. 25 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Also assisting in the service are master of ceremonies Loral Tansy, left, and members of Laudis Cantores, the cathedral’s choir. (Photos by Sean Gallagher)

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, second from left, Episcopal Bishop Catherine Waynick, Rev. Richard Spleth, regional minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Rev. Dr. Robert Welsh, ecumenical officer of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Rev. Heather Apel of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and Father Rick Ginther, director of the archdiocesan Offiice of Ecumenism, sing a hymn during an ecumenical prayer service on Jan. 25 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Also assisting in the service are master of ceremonies Loral Tansy, left, and members of Laudis Cantores, the cathedral’s choir. (Photos by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Leaders of various Christian communities across Indiana gathered in prayer with Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin for the promotion of Christian unity on Jan. 25 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

It was the same day on which Pope Francis joined in Rome with Christian leaders from around the world with the same goal in mind.

Both prayer services came at the conclusion of the international Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which was held from Jan. 18-25.

Rev. Dr. Robert Welsh, ecumenical officer for the Indianapolis-based Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has participated in prayer services with various popes and attended the funeral of St. John Paul II.

But he said he was “honored” to attend the prayer service in Indianapolis, noting that true Christian unity is advanced at the local level.

“That is where it begins,” Welsh said. “It doesn’t make much sense for us to get together internationally if that doesn’t impact the local communities.”

During the service, Bishop Catherine Waynick, who leads the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis, reflected on the story of Jesus and the woman at the well recounted in John 4:4-42.

She noted that the encounter described in the story took place in Samaria, whose people were at odds with the Jews, and showed that Jesus was willing to reach out to people who likely saw him, a Jew, as an enemy.

“Are we willing to do the same?” Bishop Waynick asked. “Are we willing to venture into what once seemed like enemy territory to learn about each other? To talk about things that matter, and to come to deeper understanding and appreciation—perhaps even love for each other?”

The ecumenical implications of the story from the Gospel of St. John, Bishop Waynick reflected, is that Christians of various traditions are called to a greater love of each other in the midst of their differences.

“Ecumenism is not about pretending that differences among us don’t exist, or even learning to get along despite those differences,” she said. “It is about learning to love each other in the midst of our clearly-defined and understood differences, and perhaps even because of them.”

As members of two different Christian communities, Bernie and Linda Augenstein have strived to live out Bishop Waynick’s message during their 43 years of marriage. Bernie is a member of Cross of Grace Lutheran Church in New Palestine, Ind., which is a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Linda is a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis.

The parents of Father Eric Augenstein, archdiocesan director of vocations, Bernie and Linda exchanged their vows of marriage at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis in 1971—five years after the bishops at the Second Vatican Council strongly encouraged Catholics to promote Christian unity.

“We were married in 1971 at St. John by Msgr. Charles Koster,” said Bernie, who attended the Jan. 25 prayer service with his wife. “My brother, who was a Lutheran pastor, was able to take part in the service. For 1971, that was pretty far out.”

In comments made after the prayer service, Archbishop Tobin spoke about the importance of Vatican II in the Church’s participation in ecumenical relations.

“The Second Vatican Council, exactly 50 years ago, reminded us that, by our baptism, there already exists a certain degree of unity among Christians,” he said. “And one expression of that unity is prayer, and another is fellowship. But being there [together] without being able to celebrate the Eucharist is a reminder that there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Bernie Augenstein hopes that ecumenical work will continue so that Christians of various traditions will be able to share the Eucharist together.

In the meantime, he and Linda continue to encourage each other in their lives of faith, and have benefited spiritually by the witness of each other.

Linda appreciates the joy with which the Lutherans in her husband’s congregation worship.

“They sing differently in their church,” she said. “They’re a lot more joyous and loud. It helps my prayer life. The mixture together is right for us. We think it’s right for other people, too.”

“It’s families like ours that are going to bring the churches together,” Bernie said. †

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