Earlier this week, seminarians at St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Seminary in Scarborough, Ont., were invited to join the Wycliffe College community in Toronto for an evening of ecumenical fellowship and a lecture from Andrew Bennett, Canada’s ambassador to the Office of Religious Freedom.
The evening was structured in three parts, beginning with a service of evening prayer featuring a sermon by the Rev. John-Mark Missio, lecturer in pastoral theology at St. Augustine. The service was followed by a shared meal and Bennett’s lecture.
Such events have been taking place on an annual basis for some 10 years, according to the Rev. Dr. Peter Robinson, who teaches worship and ministry at Wycliffe College, and grew out of a friendship between their respective presidents. Robinson noted that such events are held in the spirit of ecumenism, with the hope that they will give Catholics and Anglicans an opportunity to get to know each other.
The choice of speaker underscored this dimension. The Office of Religious Freedom, which was established by the government of Canada in February 2013, was created to address the rise of religious persecution around the world, and in his address Bennett stressed that working from the principles that all religious and non-religious people hold in common—such as the dignity of human life and respect for the rule of law—is the way to work toward a more peaceful world.
James Fleming, a seminarian in his fifth year of formation at St. Augustine’s and originally from St. John’s, Nfld., found this point to be an especially salient one in connection to the ecumenical relationship between Roman Catholics and Anglicans. “The Catholic Church” he noted, “has really encouraged us to reach out with other Christians and unite on subjects that are of key importance to the human good.”
Citing his own experience working in hospital chaplaincies, Fleming said that this kind of inter-denominational co-operation is already the reality for many members of the clergy. “When I was outside the seminary working in pastoral ministry, I was working with different denominations all the time.”
Fleming also suggested that the joint Wycliffe-St. Augustine’s events are a “foretaste” of what he expects his future experiences as a minister to be like. “I think work among different denominations will become more and more significant,” he said, “so we’re trying to form those bonds, and wrestle with how that looks and what kind of shape it will take in the world.”
Students from Wycliffe seemed to generally agree. Dan McMullen, a second-year divinity student who participated in a similar event with St. Augustine’s students the year before, expressed his desire for more opportunities to engage ecumenically. “I wish this happened more,” he said, noting that Wycliffe students often do not even engage with fellow Anglicans across the street at Trinity College.
St. Augustine’s Seminary and Wycliffe College are both part of the Toronto School of Theology.