Lutherans and Catholics mark growing unity with historic prayer service

Service draws bishops, laity to common prayer observing 500th anniversary of the reformation

Roxanne King

The service of common prayer that gathered two bishops, some 50 clergy and more than 400 Lutheran and Catholic laity at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills Village March 19 was both beautiful and momentous.

“As Lutherans and Catholics, we are making history—history of a good kind,” Lutheran Bishop James Gonia told the congregation, drawing applause.

The liturgy, which was presided by Bishop Gonia and Catholic Archbishop Samuel Aquila, marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, which historians trace back to German monk Martin Luther, and focused on the ecumenical dialogue and healing that has taken place between the two churches the last 50 years.

Countless numbers of such services are taking place across the country and around the world, noted Bishop Gonia.

“We gather to commemorate in remembrance, in thanksgiving and confession, and in common witness and commitment,” Archbishop Aquila said at the start of the liturgy.

At a similar service in the Lutheran Cathedral of Lund, Sweden, last October, Pope Francis prayed “that together we may bring [God’s] word to the world, which so greatly needs his tender love and mercy.”

The local service included soaring hymns led by choristers from both churches, intercessory prayers in a variety of languages, a commitment to the aims of the 2013 Lutheran-Roman Catholic document “From Conflict to Communion,” the Our Father prayer, and a reading from the Gospel of John on the vine and the branches.

In the Gospel reading (Jn 15:1-5), Christ stresses the importance of Divine Grace in uniting the Christian to Christ.

“The only one who can bring union among the Christian churches is Christ,” Archbishop Aquila said in his homily. “Open your heart to him who is our Lord and who unites us here today. May we come to know the truth of his words: ‘Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.’

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, CO - MARCH 19: Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila (L) and Bishop James Gonia (R) embrace following the Lutheran Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation at Bethany Lutheran Church on March 19, 2017, in Cherry Hills Village, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/for Denver Catholic)

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, CO – MARCH 19: Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila (L) and Bishop James Gonia (R) embrace following the Lutheran Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation at Bethany Lutheran Church on March 19, 2017, in Cherry Hills Village, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/for Denver Catholic)

In his sermon, Bishop Gonia said that as he looked over the congregation he couldn’t tell who was Lutheran and who was Catholic.

“Today, we remember in joy and thanksgiving the truth of our unity and our connectivity as two particular branches of this one [Christian] vine—branches we have named Lutheran and Catholic,” he said. “After centuries of division and rhetoric that was anything but Christ-like, in these past 50 years in particular, our two church bodies have made incredible strides toward recognizing the one life we share in Jesus.”

Although his own father converted from Catholicism to his mother’s Lutheranism, his dad’s family remained Catholic, Bishop Gonia said. Speaking to the experience of many, he added that the growing unity between the two churches is made more profound by the realization that it offers “healing and hope for a new day for our very families.”

“It is my fervent hope and prayer that this unique moment in our life becomes our way of life as Christ’s church for the sake of the One in whom we abide,” he said. “For the sake of the One who so patiently and lovingly abides in us.”

Shirley Vargo, who worships at Trinity Lutheran Church in Boulder, was among those attending the prayer service. Vargo told the Denver Catholic she grew up attending Lutheran schools but ultimately graduated from a Catholic college.

“I’m delighted at how over the years Catholics and Lutherans have come together; it brings such joy to my heart,” she said. “I wanted to contribute to that witnessing to each other.”

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, CO - MARCH 19: Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila (CL) and Bishop James Gonia (CR) bless the congregation while attended by Fr. Scott Bailey (L) and Reverend Brigette Weier (R) during the Lutheran Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation at Bethany Lutheran Church on March 19, 2017, in Cherry Hills Village, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/for Denver Catholic)

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, CO – MARCH 19: Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila (CL) and Bishop James Gonia (CR) bless the congregation while attended by Fr. Scott Bailey (L) and Reverend Brigette Weier (R) during the Lutheran Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation at Bethany Lutheran Church on March 19, 2017, in Cherry Hills Village, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/for Denver Catholic)

Cathy Grue, a recent transplant from Great Britain, is a Catholic who is active with ecumenism through the Focolare movement.

“This is the first time I’ve been to an ecumenical service here in Denver,” she said. “I was very moved. You felt a genuine relationship of mutual love between the churches. That’s what really matters. The theologians will work out the rest of our unity, but there has to be mutual love and it was really there between the two bishops.”

COMING UP: Not your “this-could-be-for-anyone” Christmas gift guide

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With Christmas rapidly approaching, many of us run into the problem of finding great and unique gifts for our friends and relatives. For this reason, we have come up with a gift guide that can make your Christmas shopping a little more fun.

For your friend who enjoys “Naptio Divina”

We all know that sleeping during adoration or prayer isn’t all that bad: you rest with Jesus, right? Well, we thought this quality would be worth honoring with this shirt from Elly and Grace that you can gift your “Jesus-took-naps” friend. The cozy baseball shirt is perfect for any man or woman who enjoys resting with Jesus. Visit EllyandGrace.com for more information.

It is great to nap with Jesus; but… it is also good to pray. Therefore, we have included Fr. Larry Richard’s “No Bible, No Breakfast! No Bible, No Bed!” Scripture Calendar, in case your friend is tempted to nap with Jesus every time, instead of talking with him. You can find this calendar on CatholicCompany.com and help your friend remain faithful to praying without napping.

For your friend who evangelizes while they drive

Is your friend’s driving accompanied by countless Rosaries and acts of contrition? We have the perfect gift! The Catholic Company provides numerous car accessories for the fast evangelizers. It reminds them to wait for their guardian angels on the road in their works of mercy. On the Catholic Company inventory, you can also find sacred images and pins, such as the visor clip for any parent who is worried about their children’s driving habits.

For your friend who fights for a cause

Religious art, yards, a great cause: everyone wins with one. Angel Haus is a Denver-based nonprofit that provides employment for the disabled by creating religious art, especially for yards. The founder is the newly-ordained Deacon David Arling, who has been operating it since its initiation five years ago. They have now sold over 300 Christmas Display boards and San Damiano Cross images. The family business has encountered much support from their pastor, Father Michael Carvill at Nativity of Our Lord Church. Nonetheless, they need your support to continue with this project. To purchase an item for your friend and help this great cause, email Arling at djarling2011@hotmail.com.

For your friend who is a lost cause

Okay, okay, no person is a lost cause; but we all know someone who is pretty close to being one. As soon as you think they’ve finally gotten it, an off-the-cuff comment smashes all your hopes. Hold fast and do not despair, St. Jude is here to help! This 3 ½” tall St. Jude wooden peg from Etsy.com will make sure that the patron saint of lost causes is constantly at work for your friend. Etsy provides a wide variety of religious hand-painted figures from Whymsical Lotus that range from the Sacred Heart to your favorite saints, such as St. Therese, St. Patrick, and Our Lady of Guadalupe. These charmingly detailed and delightful dolls make a unique gift for those friends who need a special intercessor.

For your little friend

Running out of ideas to gift your child, godchild, or short friend? The search is over. Faithful Findz from Etsy.com makes great replicas of saints’ attires. Take, for instance, the “Saint John Paul II the Great” costume, handmade out of cotton poly fabric (Hawaiian Pope mobile not for sale: sad, I know; but a miter and red cape can be purchased separately). Some of their popular costumes include the habits of Mother Teresa and Padre Pio (gloves included). Even more, the maker requests the person’s waist measurement to ensure the best fit. When in doubt, you won’t lose with the saints, and neither will your little friends.

For your priestly friend

He already has all sorts of things, what could he possibly want? Rosaries, religious art, and other religious accessories are probably some of the most common gifts for priests (or priestly friends). Nonetheless, we can assure you that very few have a custom-made priest bobblehead of themselves. It makes a great gift! All you have to do is send a couple pictures of your favorite priest to MyCustomBobblehead.com. Doesn’t sound like the best idea? Look at it this way: it is a way for your priest to remember and embrace his obedience to the teachings of the Catholic Church, as his bobblehead will constantly nod to God’s will and shake his head to refuse all sinful things. Plus, you’ll get a discount if you mention you saw this in the Denver Catholic.

For your friend who never gave up on comics

Why would anyone give up on comic books when you have great initiatives like The Ultimate Catholic Comic Book? A group of Catholic cartoonists joined forces to bring about this entertaining, clever, humorous, and enriching book for all ages. Although many of the parodies and puns may well go over children’s heads, the comics contain messages that remain true to Catholic Doctrine. You can buy it and check out the sample digital copy at CatholicComicBook.com.