By Barb Arland-Fye
Confirmation students from two congregations named after St. Paul — one Catholic and one Lutheran — participated in a pen-pal exchange, emulating the saint who wrote frequently to the early Christian communities.
The idea sprang from plans between the Davenport Diocese and St. Paul the Apostle Catholic and St. Paul Lutheran churches in Davenport to celebrate the Year of St. Paul and to close the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Organizers desired to get youth involved in the ecumenical prayer service and to build a relationship between the two church communities. Since St. Paul was a letter writer who emphasized the need for unity among the early Christians, it seemed fitting for confirmation students from the two St. Paul communities to write to one another in hopes of fostering understanding.
The pen pals would get to meet after the Jan. 25 Evening Prayer at St. Paul the Apostle. Together, the two congregations have about 130 confirmation students.
Last week, I had the privilege of getting together with five eighth-graders from St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School who participated in the letter-writing campaign.
During an informal round-table discussion we talked about the letter-writing experience and what they learned from it.
The first letters, from the students at St. Paul Lutheran, were getting-to-know you letters.
Follow-up letters asked questions about various practices, rituals and devotions.
Jesse Barkdoll, 14, said his pen pal, Claire Schluensen, asked what confession was like and explained that in her church “we believe that you are forgiven of your sins by the grace of God.”
Jesse wrote back that Catholics do believe God forgives their sins. In confession, the priest is acting in the name of God. “It is not the priest himself who is forgiving you.”
He said Claire noted that “our religions aren’t really that different, except for the fact that Lutherans don’t really worship Mary.”
He wrote to her that Catholics don’t worship Mary; they seek her intercession in bringing prayers to God.
Maggie Van Camp, 13, said her pen pal asked “what we did for confirmation and how many people there are in my confirmation group.” (About 60 total in the parish).
Maggie thought the pen-pal exchange was a good experience “because you get to learn about what they do in their religion.”
Mary Kate O’Donnell, 13, said her pen pal asked what the Catholic students do to prepare for confirmation. She said she learned that St. Paul Lutheran’s confirmation students attend special classes to learn about confirmation. As a student at St. Paul the Apostle School, Mary Kate learns about confirmation during religion class.
Maggie Schilling, 14, said she learned from her pen pal that St. Paul Lutheran confirmation students sing and dance and participate in small group discussions and ask questions about the Bible. “I learned that they have fun doing it, getting ready for confirmation. It doesn’t have to be serious all the time.”
Hailey Schneden, 14, said, “I learned they don’t do the same things as us. Before, I thought we all did the same sort of things. But they still believe in God and Jesus … they don’t think (Mary) is that important.”
Jesse said he was glad to know that the Lutheran confirmation students “were more open-minded to hear what we thought and to learn about what we do. It was a back-and-forth thing. It was fun, but I learned a lot of stuff.”
Students, teachers and staff at All Saints Catholic School in Davenport get a gold star for a truly moving appreciation assembly Jan. 26 during Catholic Schools Week.
As a guest, I got to sit up front as the children sang a song about heroes that was deeply touching.
I might have been sitting in the wrong place, because the rest of the people who were seated up front are servants and heroes: Father Hai Dinh, Superintendent of Catholic Schools Mary Wieser, Davenport Fire Chief Mark Frese, Davenport Police Chief Frank Donchez, Scott County Sheriff Dennis Conard, Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba and Father Robert Busher.
Thank you, All Saints, for a memorable start to the week.