Bishops to encourage racial harmony at ecumenical service


GREENVILLE — Five bishops from four faiths will come together Jan. 18 to celebrate an ecumenical prayer service acknowledging their common baptism and encouraging racial harmony.

The churches of the LARCUM covenant (Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic, United Methodist) will hold an ecumenical service in recognition of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 18, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Greenville.

The service is the third that the LARCUM bishops have celebrated together, with the first being held in 1996 at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Columbia. Last year, Episcopal Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul in Charleston was the host.

Rev. Dr. David A. Donges, bishop of the South Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, will preside and Rt. Rev. J. Lawrence McCleskey, bishop of the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, will preach. They will be joined by Rt. Rev. Dorsey F. Henderson Jr., bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina; Rt. Rev. William J. Skilton, suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina; and Most Rev. David B. Thompson, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston.

Those in attendance at the service will participate in a baptismal rite of remembrance in recognition of the common baptismal certificate the LARCUM bishops agreed to in 1995. The Ecumenical Baptismal Certificate is now available for use across the state. The service will reflect upon how this common baptism unites people of all faiths and bridges the differences that are at the heart of racism and prejudice.

“The nature of the service is to hear again, experience again and symbolize again the common baptism we all share in Christ…It is the great equalizer,” said Msgr. Leigh A. Lehocky, the Diocese of Charleston’s Vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

The bond of baptism does not take away or diminish the differences that exist between people of different races and different faiths, he added, but “whatever differences there are … baptism gives us all a new life in Christ.”

The LARCUM covenant is the product of several years of theological dialogue between the four churches that began in 1991. In 1995, the bishops signed the 10-item covenant of LARCUM. The annual ecumenical prayer service is one of the items agreed to in the covenant, which also addresses such issues as interfaith marriages, spiritual programs for interchurch families and information sharing. The focus for 1997 has been on the fifth item of that covenant which deals with encouraging racial understanding and racial harmony.

In addition to the annual prayer service, the bishops come together for a dialogue each spring. The first was held in 1991 and featured Dr. James Crumley, the former bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and a professor of ecumenism at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbia. The ecumenical dialogue for 1998 will be held May 18-19 at White Oak Conference Center in White Oak, S.C.

Race relations was the focus of the dialogue in 1997, resulting in a joint statement from the bishops that confessed to the sins of racism. It read in part: “We dare to go to (Jesus Christ) with our failures, seeking his forgiveness and healing; we ask him now to help us in our struggles to overcome the sin of racism, that powerful prejudice that pits one race against the other to the damage of all.”

The public is invited to attend the Jan. 18 service.