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Every year at Pentecost I get hopeful that unity is a possibility. The miracle of that first Pentecost, where Christ’s Apostles spoke in their own language, and all that were there heard it in each their own language. As Pentecost is celebrated this year, on May 23rd, I am struck by what an image of unifying power that must have been.
My wife Beverly’s and my first liturgical experience with the Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC) came on Pentecost Sunday, 2005. We attended the first Mass of what would become Light of Christ ECC Community. We were attracted by the words ecumenical and Catholic being used in the same title.
Bev and I were very young adults when Pope John XXXIII called the 2nd Vatican Council. One of the goals of the Council was to lay out some beginning steps that could lead to the reunification of Christian faiths. For me, I looked forward to progress on that front, having been a child of a Catholic mother and a Methodist father. There were times during my childhood where the differences between these two Christian faiths seemed to be given much more importance than were the similarities. Many of them were hurtful to me.
So, on that beautiful Pentecost Sunday in 2005, Bev and I attended this inaugural service, with high expectations of seeing ecumenism at work. The service was at the Longmont Senior Center, and the facility’s largest meeting room was filled to overflowing. Ecumenism was plainly evident, but what was even more exhilarating was the theme that “all are welcome.” From the opening hymn to the closing benediction the theme was pervasive. Nothing was more nurturing or heartfelt than the invitation to participate in receiving the Eucharist. It was Christ’s Sacrament, Christ’s meal, and Christ’s invitation for all to receive. The line was long, but it appeared that all but a few of the smallest children eagerly accepted the invitation. For many, it was the repetition of a ritual practiced throughout their life. But for others, it was a reunion of enormous proportions. There were many, who had been asked by their churches to refrain from receiving the sacrament for a number of reasons, and to be invited back was overwhelming. Soft sobbing could be heard throughout the room. This experience was just the beginning of a new journey for Bev and me. It was so much more than ecumenism alone. It was radical inclusiveness, and a whole new challenge to be truly welcoming of everyone.
A couple of years ago, our community’s youth group did the best job I have seen to date of spelling out our view of radical inclusiveness and welcoming. They made a sign for the entrance to our sanctuary that read, “All are welcome no matter what your age, nationality, culture, gender, faith, politics, sexuality, or ability.” It really struck me that everything that causes division in our communities, country, and the world was on their laundry list, and we are inviting all of them into our house to worship at the same time. So how does all of this diversity of life’s struggles unite us? I don’t think it does; at least not directly. What it does for me is to provide an opportunity to pray, seek God’s wisdom and forgiveness, and to do it alongside someone whose life journey is so different from mine that I may be incapable of understanding the pain in their life. The unity comes from knowing that we both believe God has the answer for us, and whatever our differences might be, they don’t matter.
So, on this Pentecost, Bev and I will once again be praying for the unity that this great Feast Day represents to us. We look forward to celebrating with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ and to coming together to live out the ideal of love, faithfulness, and commitment. Our world and country need it more than ever, and our Light of Christ, ECC community is one expression of God’s people pursuing that vision.