Annual ecumenical service notes signing of joint declaration


BATESBURG — On Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenburg in Germany, and unwittingly began the painful split in the Mother Church. For the past four years, Rev. David Butler, pastor at Wittenburg Lutheran Church in Batesburg, along with Father Jerome Schwab, pastor of Corpus Christi Church in Lexington, have had a joint prayer service on this day called Reformation Sunday.

Pastor Butler felt that there is no better way to reflect on that day than to reaffirm his commitment to unity, but this year there was a cause for celebration for an even larger Christian community. Key representatives from the Roman Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and Lutheran World Federation (LWF) signed a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in Augsburg, Germany. It was no coincidence that the signing took place on this day and that Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches would be coming together on the very core issue which separated them over 450 years ago.

“Today is an historical event because of the signing which took place in Augsburg, Germany. At the close of the millennium we find ourselves much more united. As we gather in prayer, let us give thanks to those who worked with patience and in hope while hammering out the agreement reached today,” said Bishop Robert J. Baker of the Diocese of Charleston, who spoke at the joint worship service in Batesburg.

Also in attendance was Reverend James Crumley, former bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who has been a national figure in the ecumenical dialogue between the two churches throughout the years. “I consider it a high privilege to speak on the day of the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” said Crumley.

He went on to explain why this day was made possible, making an analogy of two choirs now singing the same anthem. “Both Catholics and Lutheran theologians found a common way to read the Bible. There was a growing appreciation of the integrity of each other. People learn to talk to one another,” he added.

In Crumley’s homily he also spoke of how important unity is today in a world where fewer people are followers of Jesus Christ and selfishness prevails. He concluded his homily by reading several paragraphs from the declaration and ending with, “We can only say, ‘Thanks be to God. Amen.’ “

“It is difficult to grasp the whole meaning of the signing of the declaration. The effect is Church wide and will have a tremendous effect on Lutherans and Catholics for years to come,” said Otho Shealy, member of Wittenburg. Father Schwab seemed to agree, “When it all blossoms, we can say we were there on Oct. 31, 1999, celebrating the signing of this document.”

Memy Douda, parishioner of Corpus Christi, was inspired by the event. “I have a feeling that the churches are coming together,” she said.

“We hare a common heritage of faith and service to God,” said Bishop Baker to the congregation. “We don’t know the outcome of the signing but the end result will be to move us to greater unity. We have come a long way, acknowledging our differences but realizing that our strengths and commonality far outweigh them,” he said.

Everyone agrees that the declaration is a momentous and tangible step toward the goal of unity which is the will of Jesus Christ. Such an achievement grew from churches like Corpus Christi and Wittenburg, willing to come together lovingly in prayer, celebrating the small and large victories along the way.