By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
ALBIA — Last fall, Father Mike Volkmer, C.PP.S., pastor of St. Mary Parish, and the Rev. Nancy Reed, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church (ELCA), began discussing the upcoming 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. “We talked about how we might observe it,” Fr. Volkmer said. “We agreed it would be a good idea to have dialogue sessions with members of both congregations.
Pastor Reed said that while attending seminary at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, she wanted to have a Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, and was engaged in one with the Archdiocese of Dubuque. Since being in Albia, she has looked for another opportunity for dialogue. The Reformation anniversary this year seemed like a great time to do it.
“Fr. Mike and I have been working together in a ministerial group in which he is treasurer. So we have known each other for a while.”
Preparation started in October. The two did not have study guides, but pulled their resources together and took turns facilitating Thursday night Catholic-Lutheran dialogues. About 20 people have attended each session, which began in January and ended Feb. 23. Pastor Reed noted that Father Mark Yates, C.PP.S., administrator of parishes in Georgetown, Lovilia and Melrose, attended several sessions and helped out.
“Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist,” is the name of the book used in the dialogues. It highlights the 32 points of agreement that the two churches have arrived at after 50 years of dialogue, Fr. Volkmer said. “Our study and discussions have focused on the Eucharist. There has been a spirit of mutual respect and genuine dialogue as we seek greater understanding,” he added.
Through the Albia dialogue, Pastor Reed said she has observed misconceptions on both sides. “Words matter. We need to articulate not only who or what we are, but help others understand.” By having dialogue, people have their input and at times agree to disagree.
Each session was stand-alone so if someone missed a class, they did not need that information to understand the following session.“The sessions have been phenomenal,” Pastor Reed said. “It’s exciting to see how well (the participants) of this group have dialogued with each other.”
Linda Hoskins, a St. Mary’s parishioner, said she attended all but one session and that was due to illness.
“The sessions have been intriguing,” Hoskins said. Each side has talked about the differences, the reconciliation and the progress that has been accomplished over the decades. “We agree on more than I thought,” she said. “I think people on both sides have had misconceptions that have been clarified.
I have learned a lot and have enjoyed the discussions with Fr. Mike and Pastor Nancy. They do a good job helping us understand the split of the church and to focus on who we are now.”
The participants have learned about the different beliefs each church holds about the Eucharist and have a better understanding in general of what each church believes. “The Eucharist is a topic of disagreement. But there has been some good discussion,” Hoskins continued. “It’s really eye-opening to see what we agree on and how conversation, especially since Vatican II, has worked to resolve our differences.”
Hoskins appreciates the work that Fr. Volkmer and Pastor Reed have done and their encouragement to participants to keep an open mind and to remember that there are no silly questions.
“This has been an exciting ecumenical adventure,” Fr. Volkmer said.
The two pastors are in conversation about possibly doing a fall session, but that is still in the works.