View from the Pew
Protestants and Catholics share service
IT WAS a church convention, so it wasn't surprising that the 500 delegates gathered at the nearest church for worship services opening and closing the event last weekend.
They were here for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's Pacifica Synod Assembly at the Waikiki Beach Marriott hotel.
Joined by a couple hundred local church members, they packed the pews at St. Augustine Church across from Kuhio Beach. That's St. Augustine Catholic Church.
Not only did Hawaii's Catholic Bishop Larry Silva permit the use, he was there to greet the Protestant assembly. The ecumenical aloha squad included Episcopal Bishop Bob Fitzpatrick, the Rev. Charles Buck, head of the United Church of Christ in Hawaii, and the Rev. Woong-Min Kim, leader of the United Methodist Church here.
It was a small but significant instance of Catholic-Protestant détente. It wouldn't have happened two decades ago. But today, these clergy folks are not strangers to each other. They were on Fitzpatrick's turf last month for his ordination at St. Andrew's Cathedral. Lutheran Bishop Murray Finck, who presided at the Protestant communion services in Waikiki, was a participant at that Episcopal celebration.
"The ELCA has been described as a church that is a bridge between many faiths," said the Rev. Ruth Peterson, pastor of Joy of Christ Lutheran Church of Pearl City. "We are in ecumenical relationships with the UCC, Reformed, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian and Moravian churches. We have letters of understanding with the Roman Catholic Church.
"It's not always an easy journey," said Peterson.
"The ELCA takes what Jesus said very seriously, that we all may be one. Not that we don't have our differences, but we can look at how we can share the truth of the gospel to forward our mission here in the world," she said.
Beyond the formal ecumenical relationships, ELCA churches are "working with and valuing the work done by" the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Buddhist denominations, she said. A multifaith leaders coalition is discussing helping each other on practical issues, collaborating in response to disasters such as the October earthquakes, which were ecumenical in the damage they wrought.
The conventioneers from Southern California and Hawaii had other ecumenical moments to remember from this first ELCA synod to be held in Hawaii. They got insight into the good and the bad effects of missionaries in a United Church of Christ program "Lessons We Are Learning from Hawaii." Their excursions included an option to tour Buddhist temples.
Unlike other Christian denominations wresting with sticky issues surrounding acceptance of homosexuals, there were no divisive issues on the agenda, said the Rev. David Kieffer, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church of Mililani. They discussed "immigration, ways to deal with it in a positive way," and the ramifications of Israeli-Palestinian relationships.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America is the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States. It has about 2,000 members in 11 congregations in Hawaii. They are not the only Lutherans in town. The ELCA are the ones who accept ordination of women.