Students and faculty of Queen’s College kicked off the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with an interdenominational service featuring a sermon from Archbishop Martin Currie of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of St. John’s.
In his sermon, Currie called on Christians of all denominations to come together on issues that all can agree must be addressed, such as poverty, violence and the environment.
In an anecdote from his own childhood in the small village of Marinette, Nova Scotia, Currie spoke about how far the church has come: “My mother used to tell me to pray for the Protestants, because they were going to hell,” he said, chuckling.
When Newfoundland was first being settled by Europeans, Protestants and Catholics tended to establish communities separately, and from the mid-19th to the late 20th century the education system was run along denominational lines. This led to the deep entrenchment of denominational identity.
However, this sectarian past has been replaced by an increasingly ecumenical present. Denominational co-operation is the norm rather than the exception at Queen’s, where the faculty includes both Anglican and Roman Catholic clergy and where the students represent just about every denomination in the province. Queen’s College is jointly owned and operated by the three Newfoundland and Labrador dioceses.
Christine Lynch, a student from Harbour Grace in her second year of the master of divinity program, noted that studying in an ecumenical context has given her greater insights into her course material.
“I think when we close ourselves off and we just keep to ourselves, we don’t know other people’s perspective on things,” said Lynch. “The more we get to know people, the more accepting we are of what they believe.”
Lynch was quick to add that in the context of Newfoundland, Queen’s is not unique.
“I’ve found that a lot of our communities now try to work together,” she said. “We do a lot of ecumenical services in our town at special times, say, during Lent. We’ll go to the United church one week and the Roman Catholic church the next week, [or] we’ll go to the Anglican church-everyone from different denominations, we walk through life together.”
Kay Short, another master of divinity student, agreed. “In the parishes, the different denominations get together really well. They are invited to preach at each other’s churches; they take part in different things like the World Day of Prayer and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and at times like Christmas and Easter,” she said. “It works well.”
Observations of the Week of Prayer will continue throughout the week at Queen’s, with clergy from different denominations preaching at various services.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an initiative of the World Council of Churches (WCC), is held from January 18 to 25 every year. It has been observed in one form or another since 1908.
Editor’s note: Queen’s College is jointly owned and operated by the three Newfoundland and Labrador dioceses, not just the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador as earlier reported.