Christians participating at the Christian Unity service held at a Lutheran church. Photo by Peter Kay
SINGAPORE – At first sight, it might have seemed like the usual Catholic Mass – clergy in white cassocks, the rite of reconciliation, scripture readings and a sermon, the recitation of the Nicene Creed, intercessory prayers, greeting of peace, and The Lord’s Prayer.
Yet there was something markedly different. For one, the setting was a Lutheran church. In one corner of the altar sanctuary, a lone woman was working her hands on the organ, filling the space with familiar Christian worship songs such as Shine Jesus Shine.
And in the midst of the gathering of some 120 persons were several young adults who were attending – for the first time – a prayer service for Christian unity.
Bernadette Huang’s curiosity in the event was sparked off by a friend’s comments on Facebook about the first ecumenical service held on Jan 18 at Church of St. Ignatius. Wanting to see for herself what ecumenism was about, the Catholic 26-year-old executive showed up on Jan 22 at the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer.
Lutheran Bishop Terry Kee in his sermon said that God as a father would be grieved to see his children squabbling with one another.
He added that the common belief in Christ means that Christians should learn “to work with one another” and the “basis of unity is in God and not in denomination or tradition”.
Ms Huang, who found the service an “interesting experience”, said: “I personally felt quite united with the others from different denominations, and it didn’t matter who we were. We were all there to worship the same God.”
It was a sentiment echoed by many other first-timers at the ecumenical service.
Michael Tan, 26, a part-time Catholic church worker, said Christian unity means “setting aside all differences and coming together as one universal church to praise, worship and serve the same Lord”.
Hence, turning up at such gatherings puts forth a strong message. “I feel the ecumenical service is something to say that we’re united,” said Marcus Li, 21, a Lutheran who is waiting to enter university. “To come together physically, it is more than just a symbolic gesture, but a clear indication of a willingness to be open.”
Youths, in particular, need to understand that Christ “is not confined to a building or community where one belongs to”, said Mr Tan.
Learning about Christian unity early would help them to be more understanding rather than defensive in their adult years, added Ms Huang. “Many youths were probably brought up as Catholic and do not understand fully the beliefs and practices of the other Christian denominations or the importance of Christian unity, and thus may start to form an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality,” she said.
Going forward, Mr Tan suggested that parishes can encourage youth participation in ecumenical events by organising group trips to future services. For himself, he hopes to create awareness amongst his Christian friends on ecumenism by speaking to them about Christian unity.
By Darren Boon