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Father Muench Says...

Reflecting on Christian unity

January 15, 2020

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

The first thing I think of during the month of January each year is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Each January, the Catholic Church sets aside a week to pray that one day there will be a unity among all Christians. One of the important messages of the Second Vatican Council was the importance of Church unity. One of the documents proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council was a Decree on Ecumenism.

This document begins with this sentence: “The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council.” This document reminds us all of the priestly prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper, when Jesus prayed to his Father for all believers: “that all may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you; I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:21)

Following the Council, I remember as a young priest that every parish would develop programs and prayer services with the leaders and members of other Christian churches within our communities. These were great opportunities to get to know each other and to develop further efforts to work together for the good of the community. Every year, a Prayer Service is planned during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Each year, the service is planned in a different Church. The service includes Scripture readings, prayers, and choirs of each church working together to plan proper music, all with this strong theme of Christian unity.

The other important day for joining together for prayer was Easter Sunday Sunrise Service. This service is a bit different for us, Catholics. Getting up early on Easter Sunday morning is a bit different, but I learned to enjoy the service and found it a good time for praying together as a community. However, many years it was rather chilly on Easter morning. Many years Easter morning has been a beautiful moment as the sun rose and the moon was still bright in the sky. I must admit that I always enjoy the pancake breakfast after prayer.

I must share with you one of the most wonderful experience I know of churches working together. It involves St. Mary’s School in Ticonderoga. I was pastor of St. Mary’s, but this incident occurred after I had retired. When it happened, about five years ago, Father Kevin McEwan was the pastor. His pastorate demanded rather hard work. An arsonist set much of the St. Mary’s School building on fire, and the fire resulted in a great deal of damage. This was the very first week of the school year. I have heard the story often of the help given to St. Mary’s by all the church communities in the Village of Ticonderoga.

Sister Sharon, the school’s principal, told me that the very night of the fire, as she stood in the street watching and probably wishing she could do something, the pastor of the Ticonderoga Methodist Church, Rev. Scott Tyler, who lived nearby, came down to see what was happening. He did not hesitate to tell Sister that she would be able to use some of his parish center. Several of the lower grades would meet at the Methodist Church for the rest of the school year. The Methodist community was so welcoming. The children’s prayer services were held in the Methodist Sanctuary; lunches were prepared in their parish center kitchen; their parish center became the cafeteria, the place for gym classes and even the location where the Christmas Program and other such programs were held. They were so wonderfully welcoming.

I have been told that every church community in the village did what they could to help St. Mary’s School. The result has been a very close friendship – a close unity in so many ways – among the various churches in the village. I have experienced this unity often when I have visited Ticonderoga. It is truly a rather special association. I recognize that it was the result of a tragedy, however, I believe that deep down this spirit was always there, and the fire brought out best in everyone.

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