By LINDA M. LINONIS
Two Valley churches will mark the international ecumenical Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with special services. This year’s theme is “Is Christ Divided?”
First Presbyterian Church of Girard, 890 Churchill Road, Girard, will conduct a service at 7 p.m. Sunday.
St. Patrick Church, 1420 Oak Hill Ave., Youngstown, will host a service at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday with the Rev. Ed Noga, pastor, presiding and Rose Carter, executive director of ACTION, offering the reflection.
Father Noga said people sometimes focus on “what keeps us apart ... differences in worship” instead of looking at what is shared ... “accepting Jesus.”
The priest, who is president of Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods, said the experience of being involved in the faith-based activist organization has broadened his view. “We should realize we are worshipping the same God only in different ways,” he said.
Carter said she is taking inspiration from John 17:21, which refers to the oneness of believing. “We can have our own traditions, values and beliefs but we become one in belief in God, the creator of thee universe,” she said.
She related that to the work of ACTION, which brings together clergy and laypeople of many denominations who work for a common purpose of improving the quality of life in Valley neighborhoods.
Kris Harper, director of religious education at St. Patrick, said this is the first such service for Christian unity week at the parish. “We decided it worked with the new evangelization started by Pope Benedict” he said. That effort focuses on spreading the Gospel not conversion.
Harper said the service, which will not be a Mass, will center on praying for peace around the world and in the United States. “We feel divided,” he said, adding that situation is manmade. “As Christians, we worship the same God but we’ve divided ourselves.” He noted Christians get caught up in the differences rather than focusing on the commonality.
“Evangelization is about planting a seed. It’s up to God to make it grow,” Harper said. “God takes over and nurtures.”
The Rev. Debby Dockstader of First Presbyterian Church of Girard said Sunday’s service at the church will be the second one sponsored by Girard Clergy Association. She said the group, which meets monthly and has sponsored other joint worship events, felt it was important to offer such a service.
“What unites us is greater than what separates us,” the Rev. Ms. Dockstader said. She acknowledged denominational differences in theology and worship styles but noted there is a shared belief in God and Jesus Christ.
Participants in the Girard service will be Rhonda Gallagher of Trinity Lutheran Church, Burl Jernigan of First Baptist Church, Sister Jean Orsuto of Emmanuel Community Care Center, the Rev. Betsy Schenk of First United Methodist of Girard, Monsignor John Zuraw of St. Rose Church and Al Shakley, pastor emeritus of Girard Presbyterian.
“Each has a part in the service,” Ms. Dockstader said, adding they may read Scripture passages and offer a short message. “This way people hear varying viewpoints.”