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United in Christ, united in charity

Not all Christians agree on every aspect of their faith, but that doesn’t mean they can’t begin a dialogue about Christ, the common tie that binds them together.

This was the conclusion of a conversation had by three local Christians—two Catholic women and one non-denominational man—who are actively involved in ministry to the homeless population. Last week at the Purple Door Coffee in the Five Points neighborhood, the trio shared with the Denver Catholic Register their idea of Christian unity.

Christians around the world are halfway through an annual week of prayer as a visible sign of their unity under Christ. Jan. 18-25 is observed worldwide as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, established in an effort to fulfill Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper that “they all may be one” (John 17:21).

Mark Smesrud, program director of Purple Door Coffee, said his experience with various Christian denominations taught him that if Christ stays central, Christians can engage the world together.

“You just have to start with Jesus,” said 26-year-old Smesrud, who attends the non-denominational Bloom Church in southwest Denver. “We’re going to disagree on a bunch of other things … but as we engage, we always need to gaze back to the person of Jesus and we can navigate those things.”

Smesrud talked about finding unity with other Christians.

Catholic Yvonne Noggle, director of Christ in the City Missionaries in Denver, and Irma Montes, the homeless mission’s first missionary who now does Hispanic outreach, agreed the best way is to seek Christ first.

“We share Christ and let’s focus on that,” said 24-year-old Montes.

Montes was baptized Catholic but explored many different denominations until she was invited to Mass and kept attending ever since.

She noted it’s important not to make assumptions about a person’s relationship with Christ and where their heart is at. When she works with Christians who are not Catholic, Montes said she believes her primary task is not to convert them, but first to make sure she is following Christ and loving her neighbor. From that all things will flow and the Holy Spirit will guide conversions, she said.

“I completely agree it’s not our job (to convert others),” Smesrud said. “Our job is to continually present Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to (do this transformation).”

The hope is as more Christian denominations collaborate with each other, the more Christ will become known, he said.

Noggle, 31, added, “There just has to be continued dialogue.”

She said she was raised Catholic and felt called to serve the poor after an experience in eucharistic adoration at 15.

It was in 2010 that her efforts bore fruit when the then president of Catholic Charities of the Denver Archdiocese supported the idea of forming young Catholics through service to the homeless.

“We were going to serve the poor and we were going to pray,” Noggle said was their foundational mission.

Missionaries serve through the downtown Denver-based program to “love until it hurts” and help homeless youths realize their dignity. Missionaries are formed spiritually, intellectually and charitably in keeping with Church teaching.

Noggle said the ministry is there to give people what they need most—that loving personal experience of Christ.

“I think service is another common theme we have together,” she said.

Smesrud said he joined colleague Madison Chandler in 2012 to help the nonprofit coffee shop grow. He said he was drawn to the hope he saw in Denver’s homeless youths and was attracted to the coffee shop’s mission to develop the whole person.

It was founded to create a Jesus-centered community where everyone is valued. The purple color painted inside signifies the belief that everyone should be treated as royalty, Smesrud said.

“The innate worth and value of every human life is based on the person of Jesus Christ,” he said. “The sacrifice he made communicates worth and value to every single person on an individual level not just humanity in general.”

With the backing of Dry Bones Denver ministry for homeless youth and Belay Enterprises, a faith-based nonprofit, the coffee shop grew and began hiring homeless youths.

Its current two employees were taught job skills and assistance in rebuilding their lives, he said.

Although many denominations and churches exist among Christianity, the three said Christians should anticipate complete unity in heaven.

“We look forward to this spiritual reality that awaits us,” Noggle said. “If not here, it’s in the next life and we better practice what that means now in order to fully understand it later.”

Smesrud said Christians should strive to live the truths of Christ until then.

“In the end, unity will be,” he said.

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