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Father Muench Says...

Ecumenical experiences through the years

December 5, 2012

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

The Sunday before Thanksgiving I was asked to give the homily at the Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service here at the First Presbyterian Church in Saranac Lake.  I remember it as a great service and a pleasant afternoon.

I decided to begin with some ideas about ecumenism.  I have been spending  much time with the Second Vatican Council lately so I was familiar with the Council’s document on ecumenism and wanted to show that the Catholics have emphasized the importance of ecumenism, the readiness of the Catholic Church to work together and pray together with people of other Churches.

I admitted that the Catholic Church was not known for being very ecumenical, especially before the Council.  I couldn’t resist telling this group that as a teen ager – I was warned about dating a Protestant girl. 

The Council surprised us all as it chose to make a strong and positive statement concerning ecumenism, encouraging Catholics to pray and work together and study together with those of other Churches.

I decided to add a few personal stories about my own experience with ecumenism. 

As a teenager, I remember a friendship with the Community Church pastor in our town.  He liked to think that he had a hand in my deciding to become a priest –he certainly did influence my openness to things ecumenical.

I also told them of the time as a priest when I “did Presbyterian.”  This happened ages ago.  I was somewhere with a group of people – I think that it was the Elks Club in that town and I met some folks from the local Presbyterian Parish. They told me that they were between pastors and were waiting for a new pastor to be chosen.

One of them told me that she was in charge of finding a preacher for each Sunday during this interim.  I piped up that I could do Presbyterian.  On the spot we looked over the schedule and she signed me up for a Sunday.

As I remember it now, it was a good experience.  I enjoyed the service and they were comfortable with me.
I also remember that they had great donuts that day!

Over the years, I have been involved in many ecumenical services, meetings and dinners.  They have been great experiences and from them I have developed some excellent friendships. 

On a lighter note, I did want to share one with those folks before Thanksgiving.

It was in my last parish. Early on the Methodist minister stopped to welcome me and tell me about the times we get together.

He mentioned that the Catholics always joined in the Easter Sunday Sunrise Service at 6 a.m.  All I could think of was how busy Easter was.  However, each year – even on the freezing cold Easters – the service turned out to be very inspiring, filled with lots of Spirit.

It was always an enjoyable gathering.  It certainly had a great deal of Resurrection life.

Now,  I don’t want you to think I didn’t mention Thanksgiving at this year’s service.  At Mass that Sunday, our Deacon Fred Oberst, had given the homily and he shared with us some things to thank God for.  

They were very clever in that they were surprising ideas. For example, he suggested thanking God for pay roll taxes – it meant that you have a job. 

Oh, yes, here is another one: thank God for noticing someone who is singing off key – it means you can hear. 
The one I noticed and mentioned that day – thank you God for crying babies – the parish is growing!

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