Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Church of the Brethren is represented in prayer service with the Pope.

The Church of the Brethren was represented at an ecumenical prayer service with Pope Benedict XVI during the Pope's first official visit to the United States. Michael Hostetter, pastor of Salem Church of the Brethren in Englewood, Ohio, represented the denomination as chair of the Church of the Brethren's Committee on Interchurch Relations.

The Pope was in the United States from April 15-20 for his first apostolic visit to the US since he was elected the 265th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church in 2005. The prayer service and reception with leaders from the National Council of Churches, Christian Churches Together, and other Christian denominations took place the evening of April 18 at St. Joseph's Church in New York.

The service was held in a modest setting at a small historically German-Catholic parish, Hostetter said, making a connection with the Pope's German nationality. Guests were required to arrive two hours early to go through security screening, which gave the church leaders a chance to mingle and listen to some "marvelous music," Hostetter commented. Choirs from various parishes sang, as well as soloists, among them some of New York's opera singers.

The service began after the Pope arrived, with the Pope seated on a large chair in the center front of the chancel, the US Catholics bishops seated to one side, and the ecumenical guests making up the congregation. The short 40-minute service included prayers, the reading of scripture, a choral piece, and an address from the Pope. It concluded with personal introductions of several guests who were selected to greet the Pope personally, followed by a benediction.

The Pope's address "emphasized the importance of correct doctrine and prayer and Christ's own prayer and commitment to unity," Hostetter reported. "There was nothing shocking or surprising. He showed an openness that his reputation belies. He talked about the quest for unity as a commission from Christ. That unity, he would say, is grounded both in prayer but also in doctrine.

"He's not backing away from the historical views of the Roman Catholic Church," Hostetter added. But the Pope did emphasize that Christians need some substantive conversation about doctrine. "Of course, that's the sticky point," Hostetter said. "He was not overly confrontive, but clear, calling on Christians to hold fast to the faith that we have."

The Pope's comments about the nature of the church may connect with Brethren, Hostetter said. He spoke of the church as not just a biblical reality and a present reality, but also a teaching community that goes back in time. This understanding of the church is "a notion that makes sense to Brethren, although we'd be looking back at different communities" as the teaching church of the past, Hostetter said.

Hostetter affirmed that it was important for a Brethren representative to attend the event. "Our continuing participation ecumenically is very important. We have participated through the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches but neither of those has included Catholics. Now we're involved with Christian Churches Together and that has a vital participation by Roman Catholics."

As he travels to various ecumenical events on behalf of the denomination, Hostetter said he finds connections and a sense of unity with other Christians that the Brethren may not even know we have. He calls it, "a subterranean unity that exists often beyond our field of view. It's just important to remain in conversation as we move into the future."

For the text of the Pope's address to the ecumenical prayer service, and other addresses during the US visit, go to

Source: 4/23/2008 Newsline

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