Ecumenism is alive and well in the Diocese of Charleston

CHAPIN — With a strong foundation in place and the continued support of administrator Missy Walker, the new vicar of ecumenical and interreligious affairs, Father Sandy McDonald, plans “to continue the good work that Msgr. Lehocky has begun.”

Msgr. Leigh Lehocky, who was the vicar for 12 years, retired from the position last August. Father McDonald has made a smooth transition into the job, deeply committed to the goals of ecumenism and inspired by the ecumenical spirit already present in the diocese.

He has implemented a few changes since he became vicar, such as changing the diocesan office location from Columbia to Our Lady of the Lake in Chapin. It was a welcome change for Walker, who was commuting to St. Peter Church from her home in Chapin.

“One of the warmest encyclicals written by Pope John Paul II is ‘Ut unum sint’ (‘That they may be one’),” said the new vicar. “In this encyclical on ecumenism, the pope explained that ecumenism is not some adjunct to Christian life but essential to the mission of the church.”

Father McDonald and Walker have organized two important events for the fall: the diocesan training session for parish ecumenical representatives (PERs) and the annual LARCUM (Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic, United Methodist) Bishops’ Dialogue.

As in previous years, parishes have been asked to appoint PERs to assist their pastors and parish administrators in promoting ecumenism and organizing events, and to be the contact persons for the diocese. Father McDonald and Walker would like to see that each parish has someone to “foster ecumenical awareness and activity in the parish without in-creasing the priest’s or administrator’s workload.”

One way they plan to assist in this task is to provide at least one annual training session for the parish ecumenical representatives.

Responding to previous requests for more basic information and workshops for the PERs, Father McDonald planned a special training session this year for all representatives titled “PERs Back to Basics.” It will take place at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston beginning at 12:30 p.m. Oct. 17, and ending at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 18.

“We hope to rejuvenate the current PERs and help new representatives set up their program,” said Walker, who wants the PERs to come away from the workshop with helpful resource materials and solid training.

The workshop will have two distinguished guest speakers from the Charleston area. Rabbi Anthony Holz of the Congregation Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim will speak on “Jewish Tradition: Unity and Diversity,” and the Rev. Joseph Darby, pastor of Morris Brown A.M.E. Church, will give the history of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Msgr. Lehocky, Father McDonald, Walker, Mariano La Via, and Marjorie Busscher will lead other workshops throughout the two-day conference.

“The PER is one way to bring ecumenism into the grass roots of our church,” said Father McDonald. “On the parish level we build links as we work together with other faith communities on collaborative ventures like social outreach.”

Another fall event sponsored by the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs is the LARCUM Bishops’ Dialogue Conference, “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us.” It will be held Nov. 14 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, and will feature Bishop Placido Rodriguez from the Diocese of Lubbock.

Having served on several U.S. bishops’ committees — including Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Hispanic Affairs and the Campaign for Human Development — Bishop Rodriguez will share his wealth of knowledge on how to welcome new cultures and people to a faith community.