By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — St. Paul might have been inspired to write another letter to Christians had he been alive to witness an ecumenical prayer service celebrated here Jan. 25 in his honor.
More than 600 people ventured out on a frosty night to participate in Evening Prayer, a collaborative celebration of the Diocese of Davenport and St. Paul the Apostle Catholic and St. Paul Lutheran churches in Davenport. The prayer service celebrated both the Year of St. Paul and the close of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. So many people were in attendance that organizers ran out of worship aids, prompting a request for people to share them.
Bishop Martin Amos presided at the prayer service. He and the Rev. Peter Marty, the senior pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church, offered prayers and also preached. They processed together to the sanctuary, lighting the candles of congregants along the way.
Choirs from both churches led the congregation through sung prayers, and the voices of all rose to the church’s rafters, along with the smoke from incense burning in a bowl at the foot of the altar.
Holden Evening Prayer — a musical setting for evening prayer composed by Marty Haugen — served as the framework for the prayer service. He has composed hundreds of contemporary hymns that Catholic and Protestant congregations sing.
Among those in the pews were confirmation students from both St. Paul the Apostle and St. Paul Lutheran, who had been exchanging letters with one another in the spirit of St. Paul — a prolific letter writer to his far-flung Christian communities.
Pastor Ann Rosendale of St. Paul Lutheran read a passage from 1 Corinthians, 1:10-17, in which Paul urged the Corinthians to have no divisions among them and expressed concern about reports that various communities were quarreling amongst each other.
While division remains, on this cold January night two faith communities in Davenport were united in their shared belief in Jesus Christ — and for that Bishop Amos expressed gratitude at the start of his sermon.
Paul was not an eloquent speaker and, based on his run-on-sentences, he could have used a course in composition, Bishop Amos quipped. “But that said, we are so fortunate that God used St. Paul and his letters contained in our Scriptures to pass on divine revelation,” the bishop told the assembly. “St. Paul presents for us some of the most important and basic understandings of our faith.”
The bishop shared thoughts on other letters that Paul wrote, including his letter to the Romans, which presents the theology of Christians being saved by faith in Jesus Christ.
The bishop also addressed Paul’s concern in Chapter 4 of Ephesians that Christians must make every effort to preserve the unity “which has the spirit as its origin and peace as its binding force.”
Pastor Marty’s sermon focused on how Christians, like so many groups in American society, cluster themselves based on such things as shared values, faith, race and economic status. It’s human nature, he said.
“The United States of America might be a diverse nation, but block by block, we’re pretty homogeneous,” he noted. Some of the people who say they want unity are at the same time undermining it, he said. And the church is not immune from this disunity.
St. Paul saw that unhealthy things were happening in Corinth. The people were clustering into fan clubs, separate Christian communities. The clustering continues to the present day. “We split apart in these different Christian sects because we can’t agree on how to punctuate the Apostles’ Creed,” Pastor Marty observed. In his letters, Paul tells the various Christian communities that they are trying to divide up Jesus Christ, but Christ is not divisible.
Many in the congregation could be heard afterward suggesting that another service ought to be held in the future.
“It’s neat to sing with so many voices. We hope we can do it again,” said Georgeann Kreiter, a member of St. Paul Lutheran’s choir. “I love the Holden Service, it’s very meaningful.”
“The service itself was beautiful and it was beautiful to bring two communities together,” said Brad Gradin, a member of St. Paul the Apostle who sang in the choir. His wife, Nancy, agreed, and their children, Alix, 11, and Emma, 10, also appreciated the service.
“The Holy Spirit really brings it together,” said Jan DiIulio, St. Paul the Apostle’s music coordinator. She said she talked briefly with St. Paul Lutheran’s choral director, John Hurty, about the possibility of another service.
That would be the hope of Deacon Frank Agnoli, the Davenport Diocese’s liturgy director and master of ceremonies for the prayer service — “that this could be the beginning of an ongoing and growing relationship between the two congregations.”