TOLEDO — Local Lutherans and Catholics continue to demonstrate their willingness to work together on a variety of programs and efforts.

A recent prayer service was well received by people of both faiths.

The Catholic Diocese of Toledo and the Northwest Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA) recently co-hosted a two-part event at Holy Rosary Cathedral, Toledo on Jan. 24. The second part featured a “Solemn Evening Prayer for Unity” celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. A combined Lutheran-Catholic choir sang for the prayer service.

This is also the 15th anniversary year of the signed Northwest Ohio “Covenant” between the local Catholic diocese and ELCA synod. The joint program was part of the continuing steps of the two religious bodies to work together.

The Jan. 24 presentation began with a discussion on Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si (On Care for Our Common Home)” (In Saturday’s Sentinel-Tribune.)

Bishop Marcus Lohrmann from the Northwest Ohio Synod of the ECLA delivered the homily for the service.

Lohrmann opened his remarks asking, “Tell me dear ones, how can we sing such hymns of praise in the midst of so many challenges?”

He went on to address many concerns, noting how people of faith generally expect and pray for resolutions in a “little while.”

Lohrmann said, “Sometimes a little while seems like an eternity.”

Tying his remarks to the talk of the pope’s encyclical, Lohrmann touched on how humanity has recklessly disregarded caring for our planet, which he reminded people is “our divinely created home.”

He added that Pope Francis reminds all of us “what we all need is a geological conversion” for “generous care full of tenderness.”

Lohrmann said, “We are not disconnected, we are all connected to all creation. Grounded in our covenant, God has been with us. We are free to turn away from (the things which harm us and the environment) and free to care for God’s creation, for the poor and for one another.”

Bishop Daniel E. Thomas from the Catholic Diocese of Toledo presided and also delivered a few remarks, saying “Praise to you Lord” as he asked for God’s blessings on the union and the “common church.”

During the portion of the program dedicated to the encyclical, Gregory Hitzhusen, Ph.D. assistant professor of professional practice in religion, ecology and sustainability in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State University, shared a personal story which resounded with many in attendance. He shared how he and his new wife had left some old photos at a shrine as a way of closure. As they were praying and about to say “Amen” they had their eyes closed. A hummingbird arrived at that exact moment.

Hitzhusen said, “We stared in amazement, and the hummingbird stared back for a moment, and then as quickly as it had whirred into our space, it swished directly upward, disappearing on the wind into the heavens.”

Reflecting the speaker said, “It was one of the most astonishing experiences of my entire life, and the first thought that struck me was that it was like our prayers were being lifted up to God, on a wisp of incense, and simultaneously, I had a deep and warmly comforting feeling that our prayers had been heard, seen, embraced, and that we were being cared for by God.”

Several of those in attendance noted how they were moved by his sharing of that story.

At the close of his remarks, Thomas surprised Lohrmann after reflecting on the covenant and his predecessors who have worked with Lohrmann over the last 15 years. Thomas gave Lohrmann a big hug saying, “May our embrace together be symbolic of that unity.”

After the service, Lohrmann said though the hug was a surprise to him he felt it was appropriate and fitting for the close of the service.

Others reflected how similarly they felt comforted by the union of the two separate faiths and how they felt God’s presence and blessing on the union.

Bob and Sue Kreienkamp of Wayne took special notice of the union as he is Lutheran and she is Catholic. The couple regularly attend services at both Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Pemberville and St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Bowling Green.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but it was nice to mix both churches and pray for Christian unity,” Bob Kreienkamp said. “I hope this unity momentum will keep going.”

Sue Kreienkamp agreed and added, “The worship service was magnificent and I was impressed to see when the two bishops hugged.”

Tiffin Franciscan Sister Paulette said, “This was wonderful and the sermon was amazing.”

Brian Haller, interim pastor at Hosanna Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids, said, “It was very powerful. For a Lutheran to be welcomed here (Holy Rosary Cathedral) was an incredible experience.”

He also spoke of the community Bible School conducted at St. Patrick Catholic Parish and his church in Grand Rapids where the Lutheran and Catholic children learn about the faith together.

“Prejudice of all type is taught by default,” Haller said. “If we have the Lutheran and Catholic children learning and playing together, we can stop some of that.”

Bob Kreienkamp added he looks forward to the day when people of both faiths can receive Communion in the other faith’s church.

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