By JOANNE FOX
Bishop Walker Nickless expressed his gratitude to several hundred Siouxland people, who set aside watching professional football and other activities on Jan. 22 to celebrate their Christianity.
“Thank you for taking the time out of your day, even though you might be missing the AFC and NFC championships, although, I must confess, I really don’t care who wins,” said the bishop, a self-proclaimed Denver Broncos fan.
Blessed Sacrament Parish hosted the Sioux City-wide ecumenical prayer service for the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Fifteen clergy from various Christian denominations participated in the event. Bishop Nickless and ELCA Bishop Rodger C. Prois of the Western Iowa Synod both offered comments.
Bishop Nickless spoke in admiration of the 100 years of the seven-day occurrence – this year Jan. 18-25.
“The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has a history of more than a century in which Christians around the world have taken part in prayer for visible Christian unity,” he said.
In his introductory remarks, Bishop Nickless emphasized the concept of “unity” by citing a Scripture reference.
“Jesus Christ prayed at the Last Supper that ‘they all may be one,’” he reminded those present.
“It is important we keep doing what we are doing here today – especially in dialogue, but most important in prayer,” the bishop continued. “We must remember God can accomplish what we cannot.”
The ecumenical celebration included an invitation to confession, at which the congregation prayed to God to break down the stones in the wall that kept them from a relationship with the Lord. Individuals brought up crafted brown boxes to resemble stones with the words, “broken communion,” “intolerance,” “division,” “abuse of power,” “isolation,” “lack of love,” “belittling,” “prejudice” and “pride.” They were stacked on the communion rail. Later, those boxes were moved to the floor in front of the altar to form a cross.
A combined choir of area worshipping communities came together prior to the event to rehearse a special hymn for the service. About 70 individuals raised their voices in the song, “Agnes Dei,” just before the readings.
Bishop Prois affirmed the theme for 2017: “Reconciliation – The Love of Christ Compels Us” (2 Corinthians 5:14-20) in his remarks following the Gospel story of the prodigal son and the issue of “separation.”
“This is hope,” he said, looking out over the congregation.
“Remember, the son truly did not come to the father,” he said. “The father went to his son as the son approached his home.”
Bishop Prois continued, “God also moves to the object of his love, so you are no longer lost. You are no longer separated. As God said, ‘I have made all things new.’ You are all born again in Jesus Christ.”
The Lutheran bishop reiterated the reconciliation and “compelling” theme of the Week for Christian Unity.
“Scripture teaches us that before you bring your offering to the altar, you must be reconciled with your brother or sister,” he said.
“Without that reconciliation, we continue to build walls,” Bishop Prois said, gesturing to the stack of “stone” boxes.
Bishop Prois praised Pope Francis for his encouraging recommendation that Christians should be building bridges and not walls.
“We should build a bridge among us with prayer. We should build a bridge for awareness and education and finally, we should build a bridge of collaboration,” the bishop said. “I pray the Holy Spirit moves us to that point when we are compelled by the love of Jesus Christ.”
Bernadette Rixner, a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament and one of the organizers of the event, felt the service opened her eyes to new ways to collaborate with other Christian faiths.
“As a cradle Catholic, I felt there were certain aspects of my faith I had to keep ‘guarded,’” she said. “I now feel I need to be more open to hearing what other Christians are saying about their faith.”
She added, “Through the process of putting this service together with others, I have been impressed how much ‘church’ is working with other faiths and finding the common ground we do share.”