Sacrament unifies four denominations at service


GREENVILLE — Here’s a radical way to douse the fiery breath of racism.

First, get five bishops from four denominations across the state to join hands in a special ecumenical service. Then have them reaffirm the baptism of a crowd of 178 faithful who packed into Trinity Lutheran Church.

Next, tell these believers that the waters of baptism make them all children of Christ. They are created in God’s image, and they are all equal. They are all one with the Lord. They are all a unified family.

That is exactly what these bishops from LARCUM did Jan. 18 in the Upstate.

The LARCUM — Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic, United Methodist — covenant was signed in 1995. It was a pledge by the four denominations to work together to help unify Christians, and it has taken root.

Sunday’s service at Trinity Lutheran was a perfect example.

Bishop David A. Donges of the S.C. Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was the host. And he invited his friends to join him in the service.

He asked Bishop J. Lawrence McCleskey of the S.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church to present the sermon.

Then he asked the Right Rev. Dorsey F. Henderson Jr., bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, the Right Rev. William J. Skilton, suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, and the Most Rev. David B. Thompson, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, to help out in reaffirming the baptisms of the congregation.

“We have just done a radical thing,” McCleskey said after reaffirming the baptism of the believers. “We have remembered the sacrament which tells us who we are. It’s important to get it right.”

McCleskey called the ecumenical service radical because he said many parishioners have strayed too far from the root of their faith where the norm has changed. He said sometimes it takes a radical act to bring them back. And baptism does that. “It’s important to get identity right,” McClesky said. “Our baptism tells us who we are. It gives us an identity. It defines us forever. It takes us back to the root.”

We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, McClesky said. “Baptism gives us to each other. Baptism breaks down barriers that are insurmountable by other means.” The LARCUM pledge, read by Bishop Thompson, solidified that message. It said in part: “This millennium and this 1997 LARCUM dialogue present us with a unique opportunity, namely, to face up to the evil of racism totally united in the belief that God created us all in his own image and likeness, that he created us all equal and that we all have the same inalienable right.”

Today in South Carolina, racism is a tough barrier to crack. McCleskey, however, said we are called to build a bridge to bring God’s people together, and baptism is the foundation for that bridge.

His message hit home.

When Donges invited the parishioners to step forward to reaffirm their baptism, he invited them to go to a visiting bishop for the blessing. Many of them did, and Donges said it showed how this sacrament can unify the four Christian denominations present at the ecumenical service. “It was wonderful to see,” said the Rev. Kathleen Chartier of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. “I saw many crossing over of denominations.”

Donges agreed. “I had very few of mine come to me.” Then he said: “You can sense when a service has a good spirit about it, and this one did.”