Yesterday (November 10) I noted that I preached twice on Reformation Sunday (October 26) in Montreal. I also mentioned that I was in Quebec to serve in partnership with Fr. Tom Ryan of the Paulist Fathers. We were the lead missioners in a Gospel Call event. The Gospel Call is a four-day renewal event which brings together Christians for worship, community and mission. The Gospel Call provides a unique “on the ground” opportunity for Christians, and their respective parishes, to come together in order to give visible expression to the deep communion that we already share in the Trinitarian life of God. We gather from many different Christian traditions to listen to the Word of God and respond in solidarity to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
This Gospel Call mission can take place in any context where congregations wish to come together for such a mission. The churches invite Fr. Ryan and me to come and serve them together. The mission is sponsored by local congregations in a town, suburb or city center. The number of congregations supporting the mission has been as few as three. In Montreal we had nine congregations involved in one form or another. We had three Catholic parishes and six Protestant churches.
Once dates for the mission are agreed upon, and a joint letter of invitation is received from the pastors of the churches involved, a resource kit is sent which lays out the specific steps to be followed for a successful mission. In this kit we provide step-by-step plans which include announcements, news release material and an order of service for each evening service of the Gospel Call mission.
In Montreal we did not follow the typical plan to the letter but we did have the three evening celebrations and a closing evening session for leaders where we prayed and shared ideas about how the Spirit might lead the congregations into deeper unity in mission in the coming months. The local committee met a week later to follow-up this process and begin working for unity in mission in their area.
The first major worship celebration in Montreal was held on Saturday evening. The emphasis of this celebration is on the word “Called.” Tom and I preach as a team. He speaks, I speak, he speaks, I speak, etc. It takes about thirty minutes or less. It works very well. People are impressed to hear a Protestant and Catholic preaching from two pulpits, from the two sides of the altar or communion table. This service also includes special music, hymns, prayers and unique witness given by several who are designated to speak. The evening ends with a unique ritual action that can be shared in by all. On the first evening we poured water from the baptismal font into four bowls and then each person came to be marked with the sign of the cross in the water of our common baptism. I marked the first person on my side of the sanctuary and this person then in turn marked the next, and so on, until everyone who wanted to come was marked. When I turned to mark the person in front of me it was the archbishop of Montreal. I was pleasantly surprised and realized that this could not be staged or planned humanly. I was honored and humbled at the same time. For me it was a significant moment of sharing in our Christian baptism as two brothers in Christ. (For those of you who do not realize this the question of baptism has been essentially settled between the Catholic Church and most other non-Catholic churches/communities. Our baptism is now officially seen as one!)
As we left that Saturday evening, October 25, I went back to my private room to rest and pray. I realized I had been taken up into something of the Holy Spirit that I could never have seen coming two years ago. My heart was flooded with profound joy. The sense of our identity and solidarity as those who are called by Jesus to give witness to the world together was strengthened for me in a whole new way. I believe, as much as I have ever believed, that I am discovering why God called me to this unique work of missional-ecumenism. I will share more about the Gospel Call mission in Montreal tomorrow.