COLUMBIA — Catholics gathered at St. Peter Church with members of four other Christian denominations to celebrate their common belief in Christ and pray for greater Christian unity Jan. 25.
The occasion was the 14th annual Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic and United Methodist, or LARCUM, Bishops’ Prayer Service. The service is held annually during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Msgr. Leigh A. Lehocky, pastor of St. Peter, spoke to the crowd of about 90 people at the beginning of the service. He noted that 50 years before on the same date, Pope John XXIII had formally announced the upcoming Second Vatican Council, and the changes brought about by the council were evident by the existence of LARCUM.
“Vatican II changed many things, and one of them was that Roman Catholics found the means and the ability to dialogue and learn more from other churches,” Msgr. Lehocky said. “It created an environment where we could learn from one another, take a look at some of the thorny issues that divided us. It enabled us to learn and understand more about each other. Today we continue in the same inspiration with this prayer service.”
Msgr. Lehocky described how the LARCUM program is based on a covenant agreement signed in the late 1990s by then-bishops of the Lutheran, United Methodist, Episcopal, and Catholic churches in South Carolina. Through annual conferences and worship services, the leaders and laity of the denominations meet to discuss opportunities for Christian unity and learn more about their respective beliefs and practices.
“We are called for this effort by our Savior’s dying wish that his followers would all be one,” he said.
The service featured the Office of Vespers, and included several extended choral anthems by the St. Peter Gallery Choir.
Since the service was held in conjunction with the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the first reading came from the Acts of the Apostles.
The sermon was given by Bishop Herman R. Yoos of the South Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Bishop Yoos said all Christians could draw an important lesson from St. Paul’s story, that conversion can mean a transformation to a life pursuing peace and justice.
“In this story, God intrudes on Saul’s life, and transforms [him] from an enemy to a man who will be saved,” Bishop Yoos said. “Many of us mainline Christians are suspicious of conversion because too many times in the past, the word has been used to force people into professions of faith, or has been used to promote anger and guilt.”
He noted that instead, Jesus calls Paul to a life of spreading the Christian message of love, forgiveness and peace.
“Every church within each of our denominations is called to be on the same mission of peace and reconciliation in the world around us,” he said. “We live in a world that believes coercion and power and invasions are the best tools for settling conflicts. Jesus instead reveals to us a God who changes lives from the inside out.”
Bishop Yoos described a recent trip he took to the Middle East with other Lutheran bishops, and how he met Jews and Palestinians who had lost loved ones in the conflict there, but still managed to forgive and pursue efforts for peace.
He said he met one Palestinian Christian teenager who said his greatest hope was in the name of Jesus.
“He said Jesus will bring peace to this region even though we can’t see how right now,” Bishop Yoos said. “I wonder how many teens in our congregations would say all their hope is in Jesus. Maybe some of our struggles might be because we have forgotten where our hope truly comes from.”
Father C. Alexander “Sandy” McDon ald, vicar of ecumenism for the Diocese of Charleston, thanked everyone for attending and encouraged them to work together not only for greater understanding among the denominations, but also for a greater Christian presence in public life.