March 30, 2018

Dialogue seeks to unite churches as ‘the One Body of Christ’

At the Cardinal Ritter House annual Irish coffee lecture on March 15, Janice Cooley, right, and Joan Gilley inspect Guy Tedesco’s clay model of a planned lawn sculpture group of Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter and children pulling down a wall symbolic of discrimination. Both are members of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany. (Photo by Patricia Happel Cornwell)

At the Cardinal Ritter House annual Irish coffee lecture on March 15, Janice Cooley, right, and Joan Gilley inspect Guy Tedesco’s clay model of a planned lawn sculpture group of Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter and children pulling down a wall symbolic of discrimination. Both are members of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany. (Photo by Patricia Happel Cornwell)

By Patricia Happel Cornwell (Special to The Criterion)

NEW ALBANY—Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter, who died in 1967, is well known for championing to eradicate racism in the United States.

Perhaps not so well known are his ecumenical efforts to promote unity among all Christians. In June of 1965, he became what is believed to be the first Catholic prelate in America to deliver the commencement address at a Protestant seminary graduation. The seminarians were Presbyterian.

How fitting, then, that two Presbyterian ministers recently spoke at the Cardinal Ritter Home in New Albany on the continued efforts today to further Christian unity that build upon the legacy of the former archbishop of Indianapolis.

One of them, Rev. Dr. David Gambrell, put the matter in historical perspective.

“It’s time to reconsider our history and not continue to fight the battles of the 16th century,” he said, noting that the abuses that led to the Reformation no longer exist.

‘Committed to full unity’

The ministers delivered a talk called “Toward the One Body of Christ: Roman Catholic-Reformed Dialogue in the United States” at the sixth annual Cardinal Ritter House Irish coffee lecture on March 15 in New Albany.

A fruit of the Second Vatican Council, the dialogues have been occurring since the council ended in 1965. They include the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and four denominations in the Reformed tradition, including the Presbyterian Church USA.

That’s where the two speakers come in—both Presbyterian ministers were involved in the eighth round of official dialogues, which spanned from 2012-17.

Rev. Gambrell serves as associate for worship in the Presbyterian Church USA’s Office of Theology and Worship. He is also co-editor of a revision to the Book of Common Worship and author of Breathing Spirit into Dust, a collection of hymn texts.

His co-presenter, Rev. Dr. Cynthia Campbell, is pastor of Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Ky., and former president of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. She is also author of two books, A Multitude of Blessings and God’s Abundant Table.

To better understand the list of commonalities among the Catholic and Reformed dialogue partners, Rev. Gambrell started at the beginning of a faith life: baptism.

“As sisters and brothers in Christ sharing a common baptism, we are deeply committed to the full unity of the Church,” Rev. Gambrell told the approximately 50 attendees.

He noted that the churches participating in the dialogue have acknowledged that a valid baptism must include the use of water and the invocation of the three persons of the Trinity. Thus among the churches involved, a person baptized in one need not be re-baptized when joining another.

Rev. Campbell, who served as co-chair of the eighth round of dialogues, continued the list of similarities. The churches, she said, agree that the essence of the true Church is based on “the true preaching of the word, the right administration of the sacraments, and ecclesial discipline.

“The word is what gives the Church its identity. Our work is the proclamation of the word. The Church is a sign of real union with Christ, and it bodily incorporates Christ’s presence in the community.”

‘Fruits of the dialogues’

Agreements reached through the ecumenical dialogues go back to the early years of the talks.

“One of the first fruits of the dialogues can be found in a common lectionary, the way Scripture readings are chosen for liturgy,” Rev. Gambrell said. He noted the current Catholic lectionary was developed in 1969, following the Second Vatican Council, and was adapted for use by the Presbyterian Church in 1970. Both churches follow a three-year cycle with three readings and a psalm for each service.

“For three decades now,” he noted, “Catholics and Protestants have been hearing the same readings every Sunday.”

Liturgical texts shared by Catholics and Protestants include the wordings of the Lord’s Prayer, the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Creed and other prayers.

Rev. Gambrell mentioned a significant point of agreement arising from the dialogues: the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, promulgated in 1999, which he said addressed an issue that “most divided the Church in the Reformation—the issue of faith versus works.”

He said the hallmark declaration states that “[w]e confess together that sinners are justified by faith in the saving action of God in Christ,” and that by this declaration, all the churches represented acknowledge that “salvation is always a gift of God.”

‘The problem no longer exists’

There has not been as much progress regarding Communion, Rev. Gambrell said, “but there is a lot of consensus about Eucharist being a remembering of Jesus Christ.”

On the issue of the Real Presence and “how Christ is present,” there is still not agreement, he added.

Ordination of clergy is another topic of progress with room to grow closer.

The participants in the eighth round of talks noted “how very similar ordination rites are in all our churches,” Rev. Campbell said. “We recommended that ministers from other denominations be invited to participate in one another’s ordination ceremonies.”

A final agreement that evolved out of the most recent talks, she said, was the participating churches’ emphasis that “the Church is the whole body of Christ, not just the clergy.”

The group recommended seeking “the ultimate goal [of] full communion,” and to further the common good of society by working “together in Habitat [for Humanity] projects, food banks, social justice ministries and ministerial societies.”
 

(The Cardinal Ritter Birthplace Foundation was founded in 2004 to preserve the cardinal’s birthplace and promote his legacy of social justice. Information about Cardinal Ritter House is at www.cardinalritterhouse.org. Patricia Happel Cornwell is a freelance writer and editor and a member of St. Joseph Parish in Corydon.)

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