By Stuart Mann
As the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity approaches in January, some congregations are finding that worshipping with others of different denominations can be an enriching experience, leading to a greater understanding of other traditions and a willingness to serve the community together.
That’s the case for one cluster of churches in Clarkson, located on the western edge of the diocese. For the past year and a half, the Anglican, Baptist, United and Presbyterian congregations have been worshipping together on special occasions. The experience has brought the clergy and congregations of the churches closer together.
“It rose out of the friendship with some of the clergy and we decided we should get together,” explains the Rev. Canon Stephen Peake, the incumbent of St. Bride, Clarkson.
During Holy Week, the congregations worshipped at a different church each day of the week. It was a great success, with about 130 people attending the Maundy Thursday service at St. Bride’s. On Easter morning, they gathered on the Lake Ontario shoreline for a sunrise service.
This Christmas, they are planning to hold a joint “Quiet Christmas” service at one of the churches for those who find Christmas a difficult time of the year. They’re also planning on doing something leading up to Easter, possibly a Lenten program.
Canon Peake says the churches have started to think about how to serve the community together. This has been helped by the fact that many people in the congregations already know each other by volunteering in community programs. One such program is The Compass food bank, an ecumenical initiative that has served south Mississauga for the past 10 years.
“We’ve talked about doing common outreach projects and looking at other ways we can reach out to our community together,” he says. One idea they’ve discussed is doing a joint collection of food for the food bank.
The goodwill that has developed among the churches could lead to advocacy as well, he says. “There would be real openness to shared issues and addressing them in the community if they ever arose.”
In the meantime, the churches are worshipping together on occasion and inviting each other to events. St. Bride’s, for example, hosted a More Than Gold event to discuss how to provide Christian ministry during the upcoming Pan Am Games.
Canon Peake says one of the biggest benefits from the experience is simply getting to know other Christians. “The biggest benefit is worshipping with people in different ways and seeing that there are different expressions of our faith that are equally valid, just different than we’re accustomed to,” he says. “Sometimes when we do things differently, that’s when we grow and change, and I think that can be spiritually healthy. It’s not about just doing things together but having relationships with other Christian believers.”
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will be held around the world on Jan. 18-25. In the diocese, the week will be celebrated with a service on Jan. 25 at 4 p.m. at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church in Toronto. Parish churches are also encouraged to pray for and celebrate Christian unity during the week. For resources and more information, visit www.councilofchurches.ca.