Building Bridges: Ecumenism Bringing Christian Churches Together

Article excerpt

Fifty years ago, when she was a Catholic grade school student, Pauline Pearson visited a Protestant Sunday school in University City and surprised the teachers with her answers on the Good Book.

They were amazed that Pearson, who'd accompanied a friend, knew Bible stories. They were dumbfounded when she explained that she studied them in a religion class five days a week and heard Scripture at Mass every Sunday.

"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 worshiping together.

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 unity. …

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