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'To accept a common path': Catholic, Lutheran churches plan joint service to mark Reformation

FARGO - Dave Adams was raised Catholic, so when he interviewed earlier this year for a position as pastor of the First Lutheran Church in Fargo, which sits directly across Broadway from the Cathedral of St. Mary Catholic church, his mind went to ...

First Lutheran Church pastor Dave Adams and Cathedral of St. Mary Monsignor Joseph Goering organized a joint worship service that will be held at the two churches on Sunday, Nov. 5, to recognize efforts by Catholics and Lutherans worldwide to overcome historic differences. David Samson / The Forum
First Lutheran Church pastor Dave Adams and Cathedral of St. Mary Monsignor Joseph Goering organized a joint worship service that will be held at the two churches on Sunday, Nov. 5, to recognize efforts by Catholics and Lutherans worldwide to overcome historic differences. David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO - Dave Adams was raised Catholic, so when he interviewed earlier this year for a position as pastor of the First Lutheran Church in Fargo, which sits directly across Broadway from the Cathedral of St. Mary Catholic church, his mind went to work.

For Adams, the two churches aren't as different as they are sometimes perceived, a belief that received official recognition one year ago when the leaders of the two churches came together in Sweden to sign a joint statement declaring their commitment, in the words of Pope Francis, "to accept a common path" and continue working to achieve greater unity.

That event also featured an ecumenical prayer service and marked the beginning of 12 months of events leading to the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to a church door in Germany, an act that stimulated the religious and social revolution that became known as the Reformation. That pivotal event occurred on Oct. 31, 1517.

Adams' decision to become a Lutheran minister wasn't a rejection of Catholicism - he doesn't consider it a conversion - but a natural outgrowth of his own spiritual experiences and 16 years of working as a youth ministry coordinator at Calvary Lutheran Church in Grand Forks. Now 41 years old, with a wife and five children, he didn't become an ordained minister until this year.

When he was appointed pastor at First Lutheran and moved to Fargo in June, he immediately sought to organize a local event that echoed the spirit of unity and reconciliation exhibited by Catholics and Lutherans a year ago in Lund, Sweden. He succeeded.

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On Sunday afternoon, Nov. 5, First Lutheran Church and the Cathedral of St. Mary will hold a joint worship service. The 90-minute service will begin at 4:30 p.m. at First Lutheran Church, 619 Broadway, and finish at the Cathedral of St. Mary across the street. Halfway through, church leaders and worshippers will make a procession across Broadway.

"When I was interviewing last spring, the ideas were churning in my head," Adams said. "We have these two historic congregations right across the street from each other. Because of what happened last year, I thought it would be really exciting if we could do something together. When they said yes, I was ecstatic."

Never before have the two landmark Fargo churches held a joint worship service. Cathedral of St. Mary was dedicated in 1899, six years after the catastrophic fire that destroyed much of the city. First Lutheran was built across the street in 1919.

"The motivation for all of this is that Jesus prayed all would be one," said Monsignor Joseph Goering of Cathedral of St. Mary. "We have a common witness as Christians to the God who loves us and gave His life to save us. We want to celebrate what we have together."

Although Sunday's event marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, Adams said it is inspired more by efforts of the two churches over the last 50 years to overcome their historic animosities. The Reformation divided Christians, but beginning with the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, Catholic and Lutheran leaders began a dialogue to overcome their differences.

One of the stated goals of the Second Vatican Council was "the restoration of unity among all Christians."

In that spirit, Lutheran and Catholic leaders in 2013 agreed to five commitments to come together in words and actions. Those commitments will be affirmed at Sunday's event in Fargo. The first three commitments will be read at First Lutheran Church, the last two at Cathedral of St. Mary.

Sunday's service will be a true interfaith service, with Catholic priests leading worship at First Lutheran Church and Lutheran ministers preaching at the Cathedral of St. Mary. Catholics and Lutherans will sing hymns together. They will join together for the procession across Broadway, singing as they solemnly walk. One block of Broadway will be closed from 5 until 6 p.m.

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Lutheran Bishop Terry Brandt will deliver a sermon at First Lutheran. Catholic Bishop John T. Folda will give a homily at the Cathedral of St. Mary. Afterwards, worshippers will share a potluck dinner in the fellowship hall of St. Mary.

For Adams, who was an altar boy at St. Joseph's Catholic church in Williston growing up, the ecumenical nature of Sunday's event reflects the way that he has always felt.

"I have a deep respect and passion for my Catholic roots," he said. "I didn't become Lutheran as a revolt. I've always believed that I was brought up to love God and Jesus, and not necessary to love one specific denomination. I just ended up landing Lutheran."

He hopes Sunday's unified service will help local Catholics and Lutherans recognize all that they have in common and help erase generations of distrust.

"We have an opportunity to help people realize we're all in this together," Adams said. "We may go to different churches. There might be some differences in doctrine. But all of that is meaningless at the end of the day. It's all for the same purpose. We're all part of the same story."

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