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Worshipping together

Ecumenical service opens week of prayer for Christian unity

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Tonight, the Sally Ann wants to prove they're not just about brass bands and do-gooding.

They're also a worshipping body in five congregations across the city, and tonight Winnipeggers are invited to an ecumenical prayer service at one of them to open the week of prayer for Christian unity.

The 7:30 p.m. service at Heritage Park Temple, 825 School Rd., which opens the week of prayer, will include the a brass band, a community choir and involve church leaders from many denominations.

"I think it's a wonderful opportunity for the Salvation Army to be recognized not only for its social action work, but also to be recognized as a denomination, as part of the body of Christ," says Maj. Susan van Duinen, divisional commander for the Salvation Army in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario.

This annual tradition of gathering Christians to pray for unity includes evening services in the Catholic, Mennonite, Celtic, Presbyterian, Coptic Orthodox and aboriginal expressions of Christianity..

Van Duinen, who is co-chair of the week of prayer events, says the variety within the week is deliberate, offering people of faith a taste of the richness of the Christian experience within Winnipeg.

"I think it's important because it affords us to embrace each other in our diversity," says Van Duinen, the first female divisional commander to be based in Winnipeg. "We get woven together in the fabric of one service."

Working together with people from other faiths has a long history in Christianity and may be practised more in rural settings than in larger cities, says Rev. Sharon Wilson, who will lead a Celtic-influenced contemplative service at Windsor Park United Church on Jan. 21.

"The reality is we come from one root, the story of the resurrection," she says. "And there is much to be learned and appreciated when we worship together."

Working for unity is a long process at many levels, says Rev. Murray Still, who will lead an aboriginal worship service at St. John's Anglican Cathedral on Jan. 23.

"It gives the opportunity to say the time is right to work at unity with our brothers and sisters of other denominations, and to work (as aboriginals) at healing our common wounds."

Working with other Christian churches for a common purpose is a worthwhile, if at times precarious endeavour, says the vice-president of the Canadian Council of Churches, which represents 20 denominations across the country.

Rev. Paul Johnson says many mainline churches are struggling financially and that means their contributions to other organizations may decline. For instance, the Canadian Council of Churches, which has its offices in Toronto, has undergone budget cuts for 2009 after decreases in donations from member denominations.

"I think many of our congregations are involved in ecumenism at a local level and that's good," says Johnson, assistant to the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

"If the council were to die in two or three years, ecumenism wouldn't die in Canada, but CCC is a project of the churches."

Tougher economic times shouldn't necessarily translate into a fortress mentality within Christian denominations but provide an opportunity to work together, argues a Roman Catholic priest with a wide range of experience in interchurch and interfaith co-operation.

"When times are tough, you don't stop preaching the gospel," says Rev. Luis Melo, who works in ecumenical and interfaith affairs for the Archdiocese of St. Boniface.

The value of various Christian groups working together goes beyond getting to know each other and appreciating differences and similarities, says van Duinen.

It's also about showing the community that people of faith can look past theological disparities to join in common projects.

"I think it enhances and strengthens the image of the churches in the community when people can see us working together."

Giving increases to kettle campaign


When times are tough, Winnipeggers dig a little deeper into their pockets for spare change and small bills.

Donations to the Salvation Army's Christmas kettle appeal was $244,000 in 2008, up 13 per cent over the $216,000 raised in 2007, says a spokesman for the Salvation Army.

"We got the word out that our need for services is still the same and increasing because of the downturn," says Capt. Les Marshall. "Historically, we have seen it in the past that we have seen slight increases" during hard times.

Across Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, the campaign raised nearly half a million dollars, all funds to be used for the Salvation Army's social-service programs.

In Winnipeg, the organization revamped its kettle campaign, placing the 25 clear volleyball-sized kettles in shopping malls, grocery and department stores for 31 days, beginning Nov. 19. For the first time, McDonald's restaurants put out coin boxes for the kettle campaign on their store counters.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 18, 2009 B8

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