Mainliners, evangelicals unite for millennium

Published May 1, 1999

March for Jesus Africa, 1996: organizers of the annual ecumenical and international event are planning a special Jesus Day, June 10, 2000 to mark the turn of the millenium.

In a unique show of unity, Christians from across the theological spectrum are teaming up to encourage joint celebrations to mark the 2000th anniversary of Christ’s birth with the turn of the millennium.

The Canadian Council of Churches and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, representing between them 50 churches that range from conservative evangelical to traditional mainline, have formed a 12-member committee to publicize and encourage celebrations to usher in the year 2000.

Called Together 2000: Christians in Canada Honouring Jesus, the committee will function primarily as a clearing house of information about celebrations at the local and regional level across Canada marking the turn of the millennium. In April, the committee hired a part-time communications co-ordinator, Carolyn Whitney-Brown, to collect information about celebrations and field questions about activities in particular areas. Plans are to set up a Web site and develop a newsletter to help disseminate information. Whitney-Brown, whose religious background includes evangelical, mainline Protestant and Catholic communities, will work out of the CCC offices in Toronto.

In the long term, committee members hope joint celebrations marking the millennium will foster ongoing relationships among Christians from various traditions.

“(We want) to join together with Christians we don’t usually spend time with and to kind of hold hands with each other as we come up to this moment,” commented Janet Somerville, general secretary of the CCC, who co-chairs the committee with Gary Walsh, president of the EFC. “All of us are hoping that there will be kind of an opening of the heart to the way of Jesus and to each other as we shift gears into the next millennium.”

The committee also includes representatives from Anglican, Roman Catholic, Christian Reformed, Baptist Convention, Free Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran, Pentecostal, Eastern Orthodox, United, Presbyterian and independent evangelical churches.

Each religious tradition has something to offer to millennium celebrations, commented Don Posterski, vice-president of national programs at World Vision Canada, who developed the idea for the committee. If mainstream Christians aren’t at the celebration table, he said, the “extreme apocalyptic voices” predicting judgment and Jesus’ imminent return will be the only ones heard, he said. On the other hand, evangelicals need to be at the table because they represent a large and thriving part of Canadian Christendom, he added.

“We don’t want to overstate the formal co-sponsorship but we ought to celebrate its significance. It’s limited to a particular project but it is an affirmation that what we share in Christ is more important than the other Christian issues that divide us,” he said.

Beyond publicizing and encouraging celebrations being planned, the committee hopes to raise awareness in secular society that the year 2000 “is linked to the Jesus story and not just trauma about Y2K,” added Posterski.

Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of faith, worship and ministry for the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican representative on Together 2000, called the committee “a great ecumenical initiative.”

Anglicans are involved in other ecumenical initiatives to mark the millennium, she added. Those include the Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative, primarily concerned with reducing debt in Third World countries, and the Vatican Year of Jubilee celebrations. Elsewhere, the team that prepares materials for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is working on a booklet of services for religious celebrations from advent 1999 to Pentecost 2001.

To share news, or to find out what is happening in your area, contact Carolyn Whitney-Brown at 416-233-2020.


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