Fifty years ago, when she was a student at a Catholic grade
school, Pauline Pearson accompanied a friend to a Protestant Sunday
school in University City - and felt like she was from another
The teachers were amazed she knew Bible stories. When she
explained that she studied Bible stories in a religion class five
days a week and heard Scripture at Mass every Sunday, the teachers
"The Sunday school teachers had been taught a myth, widely
held, that Catholics didn't read the Bible," said Pearson, now 59
and a grandmother.
Such misconceptions are disappearing widely as ecumenism - the
spirit of cooperation among Christian churches - gathers force here
and around the world.
Ecumenical study groups have proliferated. Members of different
denominations have worked together for about 25 years to help the
poor and the sick and to rebuild neighborhoods. Now more are
A vivid example took place in St. Louis last weekend, when
8,000 people joined the "March for Jesus" Downtown. Members of
conservative churches, nondenominational churches, Pentecostal
churches and mainline churches clasped hands and bowed their heads
to pray for a more faith-filled, more moral community.
On Ascension Thursday, the week before last, members of 11
North County Evangelical Lutheran and Episcopal churches celebrated
a joint Eucharist with approval of two bishops.
"It was a great joy to have brothers and sisters who have been
sadly prohibited from sharing unity in the Eucharist - the heart
and center and soul of the Christian Community - come together,"
said the Rev. Jerry Mansholt, an Evangelical Lutheran pastor.
At its annual May Fellowship Day of Prayer, many of the 800
local members of Church Women United gathered at 10 celebrations
across the region and read Gospel texts.
Ecumenism got a strong boost Tuesday when Pope John Paul II
added an urgent call for Christian unity before the year 2000. He
signed and dispatched his 12th encyclical, "Ut Unum Sint" ("That
All May Be One"). It does not break new theological ground, but the
pope does ask other Christians how he can best help build Christian
The spread of ecumenism has been spurred partly by the rising
number of mixed marriages. Ecumenical dialogue now begins at home
between parents who are teaching children more tolerance toward
"Families want to break down barriers - at any Protestant
baptism you'll likely find family members of about six denomination
among relatives," said the Rev. Joan B. Campbell, general secretary
of the National Council of Churches who spoke here Monday. In the
1950s, she recalled, Presbyterian family members shunned relatives
who married non-Presbyterians.
Labels Lose Meaning
Many ecumenical leaders in the St. Louis community have been
"Women of different denominations have been praying together,
networking and combining and so forth for decades here," said Nancy
Remmert, 59, a member of Emmanual United Church of Christ in
Jennings. She is an administrator at the ecumenical Parish
Associate on the Kinloch Team (PAKT) agency. …