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Pentecost witness to Christian unity: 22 congregations, 1 ‘Commons’ prayer

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Twenty-two congregations across New York’s Southern Tier united in prayer this Pentecost. Some were faith traditions that have been separated by polity and doctrine for hundreds of years; some were ‘birthed’ from their parent churches just a few years ago. They gathered in stately Gothic spired churches and hotel ballrooms, in modern worship spaces and former elementary schools. Some entered a ritual rich with ancient symbols and imagery; some prayed and sang in simple, unadorned rites. But on this day of Pentecost they were ‘gathered’ in one place – as the Book of Acts tells us the apostles were on that first Pentecost (Acts 2:1). Catholic, Protestant and nondenominational, from Endicott to Waverly, they joined together in offering the same prayer for renewal of all God’s church:

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“Holy God, on the Day of Pentecost you first breathed life into your new church. Fill us once again with the abiding presence of your Holy Spirit.

“Come in rushing wind and flashing fire that our divisions may be healed, and that, renewed and restored, we may proclaim your good news in word and in witness that all will understand and believe. Amen.”

United in ‘Commons’ prayer

The prayer was suggested by a grassroots approach to visible Christian unity known as The Church Commons. ‘The Commons’ envisions a lived Christian unity at the level of the particular church, where the actual worshipping, witnessing, and serving is done in the local community. “While ecumenical dialogues do further the cause of visible Christian unity, it’s what happens where people live that really matters,” says Commons organizer (and Binghamton Examiner) Robert Henrich.

Different styles, one faith

Examiner took part in three Pentecost celebrations: a Catholic Mass at Most Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Maine, N.Y.; a Baptist service at First Baptist Church of Owego; and a nondenominational service at Heart of God Christian Fellowship in Owego. A report comparing theses services, and the congregants’ response to the Commons prayer, will be filed separately. But worth noting here is that beneath what might appear as irreconcilable differences of worship style there was one faith: one prayer to the same God and Father, through the same Son, in the same Holy Spirit.

Some fifty years ago Pope John XXIII was fond of repeating, “What unites us is much greater than what divides us.” On this day of Pentecost, 22 congregations lived that unity, united in the power of prayer.

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