French Lutherans and Catholics jointly commemorate the reformation

Married couple Catherine and Dominique Keller – he Catholic and she Lutheran – light the fourth candle marking the ecumenical imperatives. Photo: Diocèse de Strasbourg/Marc Larchet

Common Prayer service in Strasbourg

(LWI) A joint ecumenical service commemorating the Reformation last week was one of a number of ecumenical events convened by Catholics and Lutherans in France.

The December 6 service was hosted by two Lutheran World Federation members in France – the Union of Protestant Churches of Alsace and Lorraine (UEPAL) and the United Protestant Church of France, the Council of Christian Churches in France, the Conference of Bishops of France and the Archdiocese of Strasbourg.

Five ecumenical commitments

The evening prayer service was attended by a congregation of 800. It followed the Common Prayer liturgy prepared for the Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation in Lund and Malmö, Sweden, on 31 October. It was held in the 12th century St Thomas Lutheran church in Strasbourg – a place of Christian worship since the 6th century. An image of the cross created for the Joint Commemoration in Lund  and Malmö by Salvadoran artist Christian Chavarria Ayala hung in the choir of the church.

A highlight of the service was the lighting of five candles, each marking one of the five ecumenical commitments. One was presented by Catherine and Dominique Keller, a married couple one of whom is a Protestant and the other a Catholic.

“It was a very emotional moment when the Strasbourg couple – the husband Catholic and the wife Lutheran – who are engaged in work in both churches, lit the candle together,” UEPAL President Christian Albecker, said.

He added, “A friend of mine is a retired pastor and his wife is Catholic. When they married 40 years ago, it was not easy to be a Lutheran pastor with a Catholic wife. The lighting of that candle was an also important moment for them.”

Do not forget suffering of people throughout the world

Albecker said the “second most beautiful aspect” of the service was the music. The music director selected modern songs, but also Lutheran hymns and traditional, high Catholic music from the Middle Ages.

True to the fifth ecumenical commitment that Catholics and Lutherans should “witness together to the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world”, the service put a spotlight on the situation of those in need. “Of course, we could not forget the suffering of people throughout the world,” Albecker said. “The intercession and the collection were especially dedicated to refugees and Christians in the Middle East.”

Among those present were Kurt Cardinal Koch (President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity), Pastor Laurent Schlumberger (President of the United Protestant Church of France),, Jean-Pierre Grallet (Archbishop of Strasbourg), Pastor François Clavairoly (President of the Protestant Federation of France), Bishop Vincent Jordy (President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of France) and Metropolitan Emmanuel (President of the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of France).

People across the country will have the chance to watch the service when it is broadcast on TV France 2 on 22 January, 2017, at 11am, during the week of Christian unity. The service usually draws about 250,000 viewers. Given the fact that this service will be included in a longer ecumenical program, up to one million viewers are expected.

Preparation for 2017

Interest in the Joint Commemoration in Lund and Malmö was high in France, Albecker said. Catholics and Lutherans consider the city of Strasbourg important for ecumenical relations, given it hosts the Institute for Ecumenical Research, which contributed to the report “From Conflict to Communion” and the Common Prayer. He said the team of Lutheran theologians of the LWF at the ecumenical institute have worked for years on Catholic-Lutheran ecumenical dialogues.

Albecker said that when they heard the Joint Commemoration would be co-hosted by Pope Francis, LWF President Munib Younan and LWF General Secretray Martin Junge they “knew this would be a very important moment between the Lutheran and Catholic churches,” adding that they wanted to follow that lead with the Catholic Bishops Conference of France. He says a decision was made to follow the the order of the Common Prayer in Lund.

A very important event

Along with church services, the UEPAL had its own commemoration of the 500th year Reformation anniversary which began on October 28 with a service and a conference, but the UEPAL wanted to focus on the fact this was the first time in history thar Lutherans and Catholics commemoration a reformation anniversary jointly.

Relations with the Catholic church in the Alsace region of France are warm, UEPAL President Christian Albecker said. “Unfortunately, the Reformation brought division but it also brought renewal.”

Among the joint events of the Lutheran church and the Archdiocese of Strasbourg to mark the Reformation anniversary in October 2017 was a study of the report “From Conflict to Communion” in March 2016. In addition to commemoration events around 31 October 2017, the Catholic cathedral has invited Lutheran pastors of the UEPAL to jointly write a musical about Luther and perform it in the Catholic cathedral. “You could hardly imagine that 30 or 40 years ago,” Albecker concludes.