It must have been an impressive sight in Sydney, Australia this Palm Sunday as an inter-denominational, multi-ethnic group of Middle Eastern Churches gathered for a joint prayer service. Wearing a red cope (a type of cloak) and silver miter (a type of hat) and carrying a crozier (a staff) was the bishop of the Maronite Catholic Church. A fellow Catholic, the Archbishop of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, wore a gold embroidered chasuble and stole and a crown shaped like a dome. Other church leaders were there in full regalia as well: the senior leaders from the Coptic Church in black albs; the Antiochian Orthodox Primate, also in black with a rather large cross hanging from his neck. Their goal was to demonstrate unity among the churches of the East. While they came together to show their unity, they are not united enough to celebrate communion together. The Maronites and Melkites are connected to the Roman Catholics, while the Coptic and Orthodox Churches are not. The Antiochian Primate, Paul Saliba shared that, “We Australians from Middle Eastern origin feel the pain of not celebrating together.”*
More and more often we see various denominations coming together to worship, focusing on the things they hold in common rather than on the things that may distinguish or divide them. The church I serve gathers with another church in town (United Church of Christ) for our Lenten Services. In my prior appointment, a group of five churches from three denominations worshipped together during Lent. The picture we get of worship in The Revelation to John shows us that all of our human inventions and differences have been removed and we are able to give perfect worship to God. Read what John saw in Revelation 7:9: “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” were gathered for worship. There were no arguments over what the bread really was; no disagreement over the type of music to play; just pure, perfect worship. Jesus brings us together; it is our human failings that divide us.
- Have you ever worshipped in an Orthodox or a non-English speaking Catholic Church before? How did you feel? Was it difficult for you to follow along, or were you able to catch the meaning?
- Do you think your Sunday worship is too formal, too laid back, or just right? What one, only one, thing would you change if you could? What effect do you think that would have? Would it draw more people into your church? Why?
- How has your understanding of worship changed over the years? From when you were a child? From when you were a young person (a “twenty-something”)?
Reverend Lou Hornberger is the pastor of Salem United Methodist Church in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania.