On being raised in a joint congregation

St. Stephen and St. Bede, a joint Lutheran and Anglican congregation in Winnipeg, advertises the 50th anniversary reenactment of the walk that brought the two churches together. Photo: Contributed
Published June 1, 2021

The Rev. Dirk G. Lange is assistant general secretary for ecumenical relations at the Lutheran World Federation. In this sidebar from our feature article “The Waterloo Declaration at 20”, he reflects on his experience at St. Stephen and St. Bede.

Dirk Lange. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert

I have been a member of St. Stephen’s since my birth. All my formative years were spent in the parish. The years that are most memorable are after the two churches began working together in the same church building, in 1970. I remain an “honorary” member of the congregation, participating in worship and in events when visiting family in the city—and now sometimes online as well.

I was very young when Pastor Mott and Father Peers began the collaboration. However, as a teenager, my faith was deeply shaped by Pastor Johann Kunkel and Father R.S.H. Greene. They taught me both what it means to witness (to confess the gospel in the world); how the liturgy is itself a confession of faith; and how faith is lived not only in the walls of the church but in the streets, with the suffering neighbour.

The youth group in the 1970s was probably the most successful aspect of cooperation between the two parishes in those years. It helped the parish imagine what it means to be united. Several of us are still in regular contact since those days and have, in our personal lives, pursued pastoral vocations.

Through this joint experience, I, as a Lutheran, gained a deeper appreciation of the liturgy as something dynamic and beautiful that leads one deeper into faith. Of course, those early years of collaboration and then the eventual merger taught me something foundational about ecumenism and about church.

The church is not a closed community, but porous and welcoming. And there are many and varying expressions of faith! In fact, that which unites us is faith. We can have different practices, different ceremonies, different habits; but these do not impact our oneness in the body of Christ. I learned through the parish of St. Stephen and St. Bede to receive into my own life and faith the spiritual gifts of other traditions.

Though I could not have articulated it at the time, I have come to understand that which is so powerfully expressed in the Second Ecumenical Imperative*: We must let ourselves be continuously transformed by the encounter with the other and by the mutual witness of faith.

*The Five Ecumenical Imperatives are a set of ecumenical principles agreed on by the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation in 2017.


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