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Working to be one: a commitment to Ecumenism benefits communities on the Prairies.

IN THE FIRST CENTURY, WHEN PAUL wrote to the Corinthian Christians about the church as "one body with many members," he had no idea of the differences and divisions that would fragment the church centuries later.

It's not difficult for us to apply the metaphor of the church as the body to our congregations. We recognize the different gifts that are shared within our church communities--preaching, teaching, administration, music, hospitality, prayer, evangelism--and we learn to value them and to acknowledge their importance for the healthy functioning of the church as a whole.

But what if this metaphor is meant to apply to the whole church throughout the world? John's gospel indicates that it was Jesus himself who first prayed for the unity of the church: "I ask ... on behalf of those who will believe in me ... that they may all be one ... so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:20-21)

In its report to the 123rd General Assembly, the Ecumenical Relations Committee said: "We affirm one church, one faith, one Lord, sharing in worship, witness and service to the world. As part of the Church Universal, we strive to listen to and learn from one another, to break down the barriers which divide people and to promote justice and peace in the whole human family ..."

Although most congregations and ministers might agree with the ecumenical goal in theory, actual sharing with our Christian neighbours often gets pushed aside because of the many demands on our church leaders.

On the Prairies, the churches have a long history of working together, and the members of the Presbytery of Northern Saskatchewan have inherited a great legacy of involvement and relationship with our Christian friends. Not only do we participate in local ministerials and councils of churches, but as a presbytery we are one of seven sponsoring denominations of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism in Saskatoon.

The purpose of the Centre is "to be an instrument for Christian reconciliation and unity." Along with representatives from Roman Catholic, Ukrainian Catholic, and numerous Protestant denominations, Gerri Madill and Rev. Amanda Currie serve as the Presbyterian representatives on the Board of the PCE.

A recent example of the Saskatoon churches coming together was the 2010 Advent Campaign for the Good Food Junction grocery store. It may sound strange, but there is a "food desert" in the middle of Saskatoon. All the regular grocery stores have moved to more profitable areas of the city, leaving the inner city neighbourhoods without a full service grocery store for the last 12 years.

A community initiative to build a co-operative grocery store with healthy, affordable food previously received provincial funding, but when the government changed, the funding was pulled. The community hoped to continue with the plan, so they reached out to the churches for help.

Church leaders from 10 denominations wrote and publicly signed a letter of support for the project. Through announcements in our churches and a YouTube video (search for "GFJ initiative"), we encouraged people to offer support through prayers, practical assistance, and fundraising to equip the store.

The Advent Campaign raised about $150,000, prompting other large donations from the community. The groundbreaking took place in July 2011, and this Advent the churches are promoting the project once more to make sure the store is fully equipped when it opens in the summer of 2012.

Here on the prairies, Presbyterians are not big, and we're not flashy, but we have unique gifts to offer to the wider church that are appreciated and valued by our ecumenical partners. We each have a responsibility to offer our gifts in co-operation with the one body--so that the world may believe.

Amanda Currie is clerk of the Presbytery of Northern Saskatchewan, and minister at St Andrew's, Saskatoon.

Letter from the Presbytery of Northern Saskatchewan
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Title Annotation:Letter from...NEWS
Author:Currie, Amanda
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Dec 1, 2011
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