Hendersonville’s Grace Lutheran and Immaculate Conception Catholic churches plan to work together in the future in a spirit of unity that leaders say better reflects the true spirit of Christianity.
“Our ministry is stronger if we focus more on what we have in common,” Grace Lutheran Senior Pastor Greg Williams said. “Christ’s prayer was for all followers to be one.”
Williams and Capuchin Father Martin Schratz at Immaculate Conception on May 12 signed a covenant that attempts to unify the two churches by identifying areas where they plan to work together.
The covenant calls for the two churches to pray together for Christian unity, educate groups in their churches about beliefs they have in common, celebrate joint observances, including at Thanksgiving and Christian unity services, share scripture study and work together to oppose injustices and alleviate suffering in the local community.
Williams said the two churches might also have festivals and events that overlap or possible pulpit exchanges in the future.
“Maybe there will be other things we try together,” he said.
Schratz said he was looking forward to having potluck dinners with the two congregations and a joint service in October. Youth groups from the two churches might also come together from time to time, he said.
While significant differences continue to separate the two denominations, Williams said he hopes the move toward unity with Immaculate Conception will help members from both congregations remember that all Christians believe in the same God and should work together.
The local covenant took a few elements from a longer, statewide covenant signed in 1991 by the Catholic diocese of Charlotte and Raleigh and the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. That covenant was reaffirmed in 2007, according to a joint news release from the two churches.
In 1999, The Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation signed a joint declaration of justification of their faith.
The LWF and Vatican also signed a 93-page report in 2013 that stressed the concepts of repentance, thanksgiving and a common commitment to unity, according to the news release.
The covenant between Grace Lutheran and Immaculate Conception is based on John 17:21. Jesus prayed, “That all may be one as you, Father, are in me and I in you: I pray that they may be one in us, so that the world may know that you have sent me.”
The various covenants and the report should all serve as reminders that the religious upheaval centuries ago that led to the split between Protestant denominations and the Catholic faith is over, Williams said.
“For Lutherans, it is a reminder that Martin Luther never set out to create a new religion,” Williams said referring to the 16th century Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther and others who wanted change in the Catholic Church. “He wanted to reform the church.”
Schratz said he agrees that Lutherans and Catholics have more in common now because many of the concerns Martin Luther brought to the Catholic Church have been resolved. Signing the covenant with Grace was one way to acknowledge that all Christians should come together, he said.
“Our foundation is Christ Jesus,” Schratz said. “I believe in reaching out because of Christ. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all still family.”
Members of both churches have expressed support for the move toward unity between the two congregations, the pastors said.
Schratz said he posted information about the covenant on his church’s Facebook page. The post received more than 3,000 comments from people interested in the agreement, and all were positive remarks, he said.
“We are only hearing the good, not the negative,” he said.
For more information about Immaculate Conception, visit www.immaculateconceptionchurch.com. For more information about Grace Lutheran, visit www.gracelutherannc.com.