By Susan Shinn Turner
Beginning in November, Father John Eckert of Sacred Heart Catholic Church and Pastor Rhodes will facilitate a Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue.
“Alongside the 500th anniversary of the Reformation,” Pastor Rhodes says, “it makes sense for us to be in conversation as well.”
Pastor Rhodes is fond of setting context, and this issue is no different. Although the Reformation represents 500 years of division between Lutherans and Catholics, there are many things the denominations have in common. Both are searching for common ground in a time of national divisiveness.
Both churches have plenty of experience with division. “It’s interesting to remember that the beginnings of a Catholic community in Rowan County coincided with the growth of the Ku Klux Klan,” Pastor Rhodes says. “Klan members were equal opportunity haters of Jews, Catholics, and African-Americans. From the very beginning, our Catholic sisters and brothers in Rowan County had to manage conflict.”
Although Catholics and Lutherans rarely face that level of conflict, they still face the challenge of a divided church. With that in mind, the two church bodies have spent the last two decades developing the ecumenical document, “From Conflict to Communion,” published by Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
“I appreciate that we’re beginning this after the Reformation observations,” Father John notes. “Now we can discuss what we will do to move forward.”
Pastor Rhodes adds, “This is Year 501. Our hope and prayer is that we literally will move from conflict to communion.”
“It’s good to have this conversation,” Father John adds, “and significant that our two churches are creating space for it.”
The first session will take place Nov. 14 at St. John’s, while the second session will take place at Sacred Heart Dec. 5. The format of this meeting will include a panel tentatively with professors from Lenoir-Rhyne and Belmont Abbey. The final meeting is a worship service and covered-dish dinner on Jan. 9, location TBA.
“We want to look at practical aspects of communication,” Father John says, “what are the next steps we can take to bring about unity in Salisbury?”
“This is an expression of unity,” Pastor Rhodes says of this effort. “If Jesus cared about unity — that all might be one — then we should, too.”
“We can literally quote Jesus on this matter,” says Father John, smiling. “What are we doing today? What are the steps that are moving toward unity? To stop and think about all this is very important.”
Pastor Rhodes agrees. “We use the word ‘unity’ all the time, but what is unity? How do we live into it?” he says.
“So often, we treat our faith like it’s a very private thing,” Father John says. “This is a chance for us to talk openly about what unites us and what divides us. We want to talk more deeply about community with one another and the fact that we both are rooted in Jesus Christ.”