St. Joseph Church and School promotes Christian unity

Miscellany/Christina Lee Knauss: Members of churches from around Columbia join together for an ecumenical prayer service held Jan. 22 at St. Joseph Church in Columbia to celebrate Christian Unity Week.

COLUMBIA—Many students of different faiths attend Catholic schools, but rarely get the chance to share their traditions with their classmates. 

For the past 15 years, St. Joseph Church and School in Columbia has worked to bridge that spiritual gap by holding an ecumenical prayer service during Christian Unity Week in January. 

Organizers invite clergy from various churches that the school families attend. They come together, meet each other and pray for an increased understanding and unity among different denominations. For some students, it is the first time they have ever prayed alongside members of other denominations. 

This year’s service drew 10 participants from Episcopal, Baptist, United Methodist, Lutheran, and Presbyterian churches, plus a resident teacher from a Buddhist center in Columbia. 

They joined Msgr. Richard Harris, pastor, and Father Jimmy Touzeau, parochial vicar at St. Joseph, as well as Father Michael Okere, administrator at St. Martin de Porres Church. 

The service included Scripture readings and hymns, special prayers and a meditation on Christian unity, and music by the school’s Cantor Choir. 

Father Okere gave the homily focused on one of the readings from the Acts of the Apostles that described how residents of Malta showed “unusual kindness” to St. Paul and other apostles who visited them. 

“Unusual kindness like those people showed begins when we start to love people who are not like us,” Father Okere said. “Good things come when we are kind and hospitable to others, when we interact with others and learn about each other. We need to look for what unifies us instead of what makes us different, and something that we all share together here is that we believe in God and we have faith that brings us together.” 

Elizabeth Sheehan sat with her daughter, Chandler Sheehan, 5, during the service. Sheehan said her family attends both St. Joseph and Trenholm Road United Methodist Church, and she appreciated the chance to see her pastor, the Rev. Joel Jones, pray at St. Joseph. 

“It’s a special thing to recognize the fact that there are other churches represented among the student body at St. Joseph, and for the kids to join with their fellow students to learn about what they have in common,” she said. 

Rev. Ellen Skidmore, pastor of Forest Lake Presbyterian Church, said events like the annual prayer service are more necessary than ever before. 

“It’s a wonderful and worthy thing to be able to claim what we share,” she said. “This country is so divided these days on so many levels that we need more opportunities to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us.” 

Christian Unity Week ran from Jan. 18-25 and included several ecumenical and interfaith events around the Midlands.