Three churches, three faiths, one goal 'Pulpit exchange' focuses on unity
Catholics, Episcopalians and Methodists share a common Christian heritage that should override their theological differences, say the leaders of three major churches in downtown Louisville.
The Rev. William Fichteman, pastor at the Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption, the Rev. Mark Bourlakas, dean of Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral, and the Rev. Jean Hawxhurst, senior pastor at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, will take part in a tripartite pulpit exchange tomorrow. The churches formalized a "Tri-Covenant" agreement two weeks ago.
Bourlakas will deliver the homily at the morning Mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption. Fichteman will speak at the morning service at Fourth Avenue United Methodist. And Hawxhurst will preach at the morning liturgy at Christ Church Cathedral.
The agreement was ratified two weeks ago tomorrow by Archbishop Thomas Kelly of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville, Bishop Edwin Gulick Jr. of the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky and Bishop James King Jr. of the United Methodist Annual Conference of Kentucky. They made the agreement during a ceremony at Fourth Avenue United Methodist on St. Catherine Street.
It commits the three congregations to pray for and support each other and engage in joint communal prayer and service as a witness to the Louisville community, especially downtown.
Fichteman said that since only about a dozen members of each congregation attended the ratification ceremony, tomorrow's pulpit exchange will be a more public demonstration of the agreement.
The pulpit exchange "is an opportunity to touch more people with the message that we share quite a lot of our Christian heritage together," he said. "The importance of it is that it models for others that we have differences in our belief systems, but we can still find the commonalities that unite us."
The Cathedral of the Assumption and Christ Church Cathedral have had a covenant agreement for more than a quarter-century. After Fourth Avenue United Methodist began working closely with the two recently in a "Gospel Call," church leaders decided to enter into a tri-covenant relationship.
Cathedrals serve as the bishop's seat and central church for dioceses in both the Catholic and Episcopal traditions.
"It is vital for us to break down denominational boundaries as much as we can because we are all trying to do the work of the Gospels," Bourlakas said.
The agreement is "an intentional witness" for Christian unity, Hawxhurst said.
She said she also might like to see the relationship extended to include other Christian denominations, and even other faiths.
"Part of this is to recognize that we do have differences, and the differences are real, but this is a way to say, 'Despite our differences, we see that each other has faith and we want to walk together,' " she said.
"For me, as a leader in the Christian tradition, Jesus prayed for us to be one," she said. "To me, working toward that oneness is a part of that calling to discipleship."