There Goes the Neighborhood | Ecumenism Starts With One’s Neighbors

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by Rev. Nick Baird-Chrisohon
Committee on Christian Unity and Interreligious Relations

On a sweltering July evening, members of Rehoboth United Methodist Church and St. Timothy Lutheran Church gathered in the sanctuary of Rehoboth on a Sunday night to celebrate worship. This worship service, the first of what they expect to be a monthly affair, had a single purpose – “Building an Ecumenical Sacred Community” – printed on the front of the bulletin.

The initial gathering began at 5:30 pm to offer space for participants to meet each other prior to sharing in the sacred practice of worship and praise. They then moved toward the sanctuary at 6pm, entering the space as a lone chorus was sung in repetition in the Taize style.

The service itself was a mix of the contemporary and the ancient. Modern praise choruses preceding ancient practices of passing the peace, liturgical prayer, and a locked-arm singing of the Lutheran hymn “All Are Welcome” prior to the final benediction which includes the phrase “go and be excellent to one another.”

Prayer through Waters

A walking prayer station exercise took the place of the typical homily or sermon spot following the reading of Scripture. The theme of water led to a final focal point of remembering one’s baptism at the font. Attendees enthusiastically made their way to the closest station and participated in the exercises printed in the accompanying manuals. None seemed to remain seated which added to the warm, communal feel of the gathered, ad-hoc community.

Stations adorned with names like “River Jordan,” “Through the Sea,” and “Dark Water” invited participants to reflect on the fragility of life in light of the Almighty. One could sense an honest underlying message about the necessity of community and faith in a volatile and fractured world.

As participants began moving toward completion, the curated playlist gave way to a live performance of “The Prayer.” The beautiful duet of male and female voices and a mixture of Italian and English lyrics crescendoed then rested the spirit of the room. One could sense the divine even from the back rows.

Rev. K.C. Casebier, associate pastor at Rehoboth and one of the originators of this endeavor, related the two-year process that birthed this evening’s gathering and the hope behind it. She noted that people want to join together untethered by human-made, invisible boundaries between denominations and hoped it would lead to other conversations around loving one’s neighbors of differing life experiences and statuses. This goal of bringing people together as a courageous act of dealing with and leaning into difference is shared by other ecumenical groups in the conference and is a bedrock belief of the Christian Unity and Interreligious Relations team. If you have questions or would like to be in contact with Neighborhood Worship or its parent group Forward Movement, TN, you can find them on Facebook or their website