The primary purpose of the Gospel Call mission that Fr. Thomas Ryan and I led in Montreal (October 25–29) was to celebrate the gains of Christian unity from the last fifty years and “take these gains to the pews.” For all the work done in ecumenism very little is actually being done to help specific churches and leaders build collaborative efforts for unity in Christ’s mission. No work that I have done in recent years more clearly expresses the purpose of ACT3 Network than the Gospel Call work since ACT3’s mission is specifically “to empower churches and leaders for unity in Christ’s mission.” The Gospel Call mission seeks to practically “empower” this vision to happen on the ground, where churches are located in a city or town. These churches are located, in many cases, side-by-side. (Some of our churches in Montreal were literally across the street from each other!)
Fr. Ryan and I both believe that as long as local communities of believers live in separation from each other, the credibility of the gospel of reconciliation that they offer to their neighbors is diminished. This thinking is based upon the clear teaching of our Lord in John 17:20-24. Jesus prayed for our relational oneness “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (verse 21b). The Gospel Call is directed at praying and working for an answer to this prayer of our Lord. Tom and I shared many hours together in private conversation and prayer. It dawned on me as we did that there is no other Catholic-Protestant team doing precisely what we are doing in the Gospel Call. I genuinely urge you to consider hosting us in your city. You can contact me or Fr. Ryan directly.
This plan to bring churches together for local mission grows out of great religious convergence that has taken place among our churches over the last thirty years. Biblical, liturgical and spiritual renewal is taking place because of the fruit of the ecumenical movement. Teams of leaders have worked in national and international dialogues making great progress toward resolving centuries old questions that have divided our churches. Through these efforts many of us have built friendships and grown very close to one another. But these opportunities now must be made available to the entire people of God (laos).
The second public service in the Gospel Call mission in Montreal was a celebration of “Life in Community.” Following this marvelous service we had a social time where a wonderful book store was provided as well. I was particularly pleased that the Focolare were represented in the Montreal mission given my personal fellowship with this renewal movement. I not only met many of the leaders of the Focolare in Montreal, men and women who staffed a New City Press table with books, but I met a Focolare priest later in the week at the Cathedral. (This was an unplanned visit and a very happy one for me.)
Tom and I again preached in tandem, taking turns every few minutes, and speaking as “one” yet as two distinct and different voices. I was again surprised and joyful at how well this turned out. We worked for months to prepare our three major sermons going back and forth in writing our text with ideas shared by email correspondence. Then when we met face-to-face in Montreal we went through our sermons together each day, making sure that we spoke not only as one but as two distinct voices blending together. It worked, and in fact I think it worked quite well. Again, I have never personally seen a sermon preached by two ministers in this manner. It modeled solidarity and partnership in a beautiful way.
On the second evening of the Gospel Call we stressed the words: “Life in Community.” Our symbolic action involved a simple cross. We placed a large wooden cross in the middle of the church and invited people to come and pray. They could venerate the cross in any way they felt comfortable. I saw people kneel at the cross, touch the cross, embrace the cross and kiss it. It was quiet, reverent and very moving. I watched with tears of joy and said to myself, “At the foot of the cross we are truly one!” May it be more so in all we do in our towns and cities across North America. A generation watches and waits to see if we will come together in Christ’s love.