The Ecumenical Path

Steve Powell Benedictine Bridge, Sunday Assembly Leave a Comment

How does a person raised in a small Evangelical Protestant church become an oblate of a Benedictine monastery and a member of Sunday Assembly at Holy Wisdom Monastery? The journey is not as long as one might suppose, because these two seemingly-opposites of the Christian spectrum have a lot in common with each other. Both of them have a strong belief in ecumenism, a realization that all Christians should be able to worship together.

I grew up in the Christian Church (a conservative relative of the Disciples of Christ denomination). When I was in high school, we learned that our church started in the early 19th century as an ecumenical movement, primarily between the Baptists and the Presbyterians. In endeavoring to bring down barriers between Christians, they adopted an “Open Communion Table,” no person has the right to deny anyone else the right of taking communion—that’s a matter between you and God. I took that very much to heart and it has become one of the foundations of my “theology,” a “must-have” for any church I belong to. This may seem obvious today, but in the early 1960s, it wasn’t.  Since then, as my own personal ecumenical gesture, I have always tried to attend a church of a different denomination at Easter.

My introduction to St. Benedict Center (as Holy Wisdom Monastery was known then), like many people’s, came when I attended a weekend group retreat. I knew nothing about the monastery or St. Benedict  and very little about Roman Catholicism. During a break in our group time on Sunday morning, I had nothing else to do so I took a walk around the monastery when I heard a church service going on. Curious about what a Catholic mass was like, I stood outside the door of the chapel and listened. Then the congregation started singing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” I certainly didn’t expect to hear what I had always thought of as the “The Battle Hymn of the Protestant Reformation” in an Catholic mass.

Later, people on the retreat assured me that other Protestants attended worship there and I would be welcome.

At that time, I was looking for a new worshiping community.  So when I heard what I took as an ecumenical gesture, I thought, “This is certainly worth looking into!” (I had already become enchanted by the hospitality of the monastery and the beauty of the grounds.)

That was over 25 years ago and the more I’ve learned about the Benedictine Rule, the more it has influenced my life.

Of course, St. Benedict certainly never mentioned ecumenism as something to strive for. So, where does it fit into the Benedictine values we find at Holy Wisdom Monastery?  In chapter 53 of the Rule, St. Benedict tells us, “all guests who present themselves are to be treated as Christ.”  This is the foundation of the Benedictine value of hospitality.

At Holy Wisdom Monastery, an essential part of hospitality is welcoming others into our worshiping community. Like most modern churches, the members of Sunday Assembly or the Oblate community don’t all share the same beliefs or subscribe to the same doctrines exactly. But when we gather at Eucharist (communion), we all are part of the same body for we share the same bread and drink from the same cup. This is the “open table” I grew up with. I have always found this to be true at Holy Wisdom Monastery and know I always will.

Has your interest in Sunday Assembly been piqued? Join us for worship sometime on Sunday at 9:00 am!

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