Leaders from four Christian churches convened for the 2019 Covenant Prayer Service in May at St. Athanasius Ukrainian Catholic Parish in Regina. From left, Roman Catholic Archbishop Donald Bolen, Bishop Sid Haugen (Saskatchewan Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada), Bishop Robert Hardwick (Diocese of Qu’Appelle, Anglican Church in Canada), and Fr. Vasyl Tymishak (St. Athanasius Ukrainian Catholic Church, Regina). Photo courtesy Archdiocese of Regina

Ecumenical covenant a ‘message of hope’

  • April 10, 2020

While the VIDO-Intervac laboratory at the University of Saskatchewan is working flat-out on a vaccine for COVID-19, bishops from all over Saskatchewan have come together to launch a laboratory of their own to work on the elusive formula for Christian unity.

“As artisans of unity, we commit our churches, while remaining faithful to our respective traditions, to be laboratories of ecumenical experimentation towards deeper participation in the mystery of Christ,” the Saskatchewan bishops declared as they launched the LAURC Covenant just in time for Easter. 

LAURC stands for Lutheran, Anglican, Ukrainian and Roman Catholic. The document signed by 10 bishops expands the existing relationship, inaugurated in 2011, between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Regina and the Anglican Diocese of Qu’Appelle. The new covenant covers all the Evangelical Lutherans and Ukrainian Catholics, plus Anglicans and Roman Catholics in the province.

After years in the making, Anglican Bishop of Saskatoon Chris Harper believes this laboratory of ecumenical faith couldn’t come at a better time.

“We need this message of hope,” Harper said. “People more than ever, across this land, need a sense of hope — that the Church is there, being that light, that beacon, for everyone to see that we are still together and we will always support each other in prayer. We can do amazing things together.”

The covenant commits Saskatchewan churches to an annual service of reconciliation, praying for one another in intercessory prayers at Sunday Eucharists, working together on justice projects, working together with First Nations and Metis elders on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, and praying together in times of great need or emergency.

But there’s much more that parishes might take on together, from Bible study classes to joint youth groups to marriage preparation for inter-church couples. The covenant makes 23 suggestions of optional activities parishes are encouraged to try together.

The Saskatchewan covenant is a great example of the “Lund Principle,” said Saint Paul University professor of ecumenical theology Cathy Clifford. Established by the World Council of Churches 70 years ago, the Lund Principle makes ecumenical co-operation the norm rather than the exception.

“It’s to say the normal way for us to proceed is to proceed together. We will do everything together except what our convictions do not allow us to do together,” Clifford said.

The Saskatchewan churches’ commitment to one another has more than a hint of Easter about it, according to Clifford.

“In Easter, we celebrate the victory of life over death and our liberation over sin,” she said. “And that means the sin of division.”

Anglican Bishop of Qu’Appelle Rob Hardwick points out that from Jesus’ Holy Thursday prayer that “they all be one” at the Last Supper, through the cross on Good Friday and into resurrection on Easter Sunday, Christians participate in the drama of reconciliation and unity.

“I see this reconciliation of Easter coming into being in answer to Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper,” Hardwick said. “Unlike Pontius Pilate who washed his hands, I’m thankful that the leaders of these denominations and eparchy have not washed their hands. They have struggled with the difficult questions, and in the struggling with the questions we’ve come to love one another.”

Christians can disagree about a lot of things, but they don’t disagree about Easter, said Regina Archbishop Don Bolen.

“So as we approach the celebration of Easter, though we do have differences, that common faith is very much at the forefront,” Bolen said. “We’re celebrating in the covenant the faith that binds us together, even if we remain an incomplete communion.”

 Calling this new relationship a covenant isn’t just fancy religious talk, said Clifford.

“It says that we’re bound to each other, we’re beholden to each other and we’re committed to carrying one another in good times and in bad, she said.”

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