On Sunday, May 7, 2023, after Presiding at the 8 AM Eucharist at the Cathedral, I travelled to St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on 18th Avenue. It was a big day for St. Mark’s. After 41 years as an independent congregation, St. Marks was being received into the BC Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church In Canada. Bishop Kathy Martin, the Lutheran Bishop of BC, and I presided at Communion, while Pastor Ingrid and Pastor Matthew led the rest of the liturgy and prayer. It took a lot of dialogue, over time, but St. Mark’s agreed to submit their application to the BC Synod.
Bishop Kathy celebrated alongside Pastor Ingrid, Doerschel and Pastor Matthew Senf. Pastor Ingrid is the pastor of St. Mark's and has worshipped with us on many occasions. Pastor Matthew was there is his capacity as Assistant to the Lutheran Bishop for Ecumenical Affairs. He is, of course, also Cathedral clergy and Assistant to the Dean here at the Cathedral.
St. Mark’s is a German - English Lutheran Church. It has been a German speaking congregation. Over the years it has grown to include an English-speaking congregation. After much discussion and prayer, St. Mark's voted to join the ELCIC. We often hear about churches separating from their denomination because of theological differences. While that happens, and seems to be happening more often, it was refreshing to see a parish moving in the other direction. St. Mark's took Jesus’ imperative prayer "that they all may be one" to heart and worked to reconcile and move closer.
The decision wasn’t made lightly or without some dissension. There had been animosity in the past toward the larger Church. There was fear around what joining the larger body might mean. There was a fear of losing what was important and cherished. Underneath it all was a fear of the unknown, because it might foretell loss.
The liturgy of reception was a combined German-English service. During the service, the German Choir sang a song based on the words written by German Lutheran Theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It summed up how any Christian community can find strength by entering into change, into the unknown and facing what lies before them. The hymn began, “By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered and confidently waiting, come what may, we know that God is with us night and morning, and never fails to meet us each new day.”
After the worship service, many people came up to me to thank me for being present with them on this day. Some of the people said they have attended services at the Cathedral when Pastor Ingrid has preached or presided. Two people shared something with me that really made me think. Both thanked me for being present and said that my presence gave them hope. They said they saw in my presence a connection to the larger church. They said when they look at their church they wonder what might become of it. They wonder what church might await their children. They said the connection to the Anglican Communion and its history gives them hope. Hope for the future and a feeling of not being alone. A feeling that Jesus’ prayer that we might all be one is being answered.
1. The name plate over the entrance to St. Mark's Lutheran Church
2. Pastor Ingrid Doerschel, Bishop Kathy Martin, and Pastor Matthew Senf preparing for the service of reception.
3. The altar area at St. Mark's