…that they all may be one. John 17:21
When people talk behind your back, it is not always bad. It seems that my name came up recently in an adult Sunday School class at the First Presbyterian Church down in Somerset, Ky. The result was an invitation being issued by the present pastor for me to come down to attend their adult Sunday School class and preach at the 11 a.m. service. I was honored and quickly accepted.
That led to a second invitation from the local Catholic parish of St. Mildred, “since I was already going to be there.” Saturday night Mass was followed by dinner in the home of one of the members of St. Mildred Church with some First Presbyterian guests. Sunday Service at the Presbyterian Church was followed by lunch at the home of one of its members with some guests from St. Mildred. Both ended in some fascinating round table ecumenical discussions on a range of topics.
My very first assignment as a priest was to St. Mildred Church and its missions around Lake Cumberland. I was associate pastor there for five years, before becoming the first resident priest of St. Peter Church in Monticello, Ky., along with caring for the newer Good Shepherd Mission Church in Whitley City, Ky., for another five years.
While I was there, I was part of a support group made up of the pastors of the Presbyterian, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ and Episcopal churches, as well as the music minister of First Baptist Church. We met every Monday at the Presbyterian Church office to discuss our homilies, share personal stories and go to lunch. We ended up doing many wonderful, innovative ecumenical things together back then.
During my recent visit, the adult Sunday School at the Presbyterian church had read an article about Pope Francis and I was invited to present my insights about him. At the Sunday Service, I preached about Pope Francis, connecting his constant invitations to “go to the margins of the church” and to “take some risks” to the Good Samaritan.
It was a fabulous weekend to re-connect with old friends, but it was also wonderful to witness how deep and lasting those simple ecumenical efforts of 40 years ago (which were new and a bit radical at the time) have penetrated the hearts of Catholics and Presbyterians and are still producing fruit.
The very idea that a Presbyterian church would ask a priest from 40 years ago to come back and speak about our new pope and preach at their Sunday Service is amazing even in today’s terms.
It was that former Presbyterian pastor and long-time friend, Jack Wilhelm, who persuaded me to get my doctor of ministry degree in parish revitalization from McCormick Presbyterian Seminary in Chicago, which led to my selection as pastor of the Cathedral of the Assumption to lead its revitalization. The Presbyterians even gave me a full scholarship.
Emeritus Pastor Jack Wilhelm summarized the weekend best when he said, “When these things happen, we are all enriched.”
Father J. Ronald Knott