Unity in the Body of Christ is important to Jesus. We see this most clearly in his prayer in John 17—that they may all be one. For the Alleluia Community, the call to unity is part of our charism, a special call upon us which is both a challenge and a pleasure.
We do not see our call to help bring about healing in the Body of Christ in isolation. Rather we see ourselves as the fruit of both institutional and charismatic action of the Holy Spirit. We are a fruit of many years of ecumenical dialogue that preceded the Vatican Council and a true fruit of the Vatican Council. We also see ourselves as the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s move that began to blow sovereignly at the opening of the 20th century in Topeka, Kansas, then California in 1906, Pentecostalism emerged and then in the mid-20th century, the baptism of the Holy Spirit spread to the mainline Protestant churches. It was in 1967 that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit broke out like wild fire in the U.S. among Catholics. There was much fellowship and sharing among Protestants and Catholics as they shared this experience in common.
And in the early 1970’s, God poured out His Holy Spirit on a particular group of people in Augusta,Ga., USA, and began the work of revival and unity which still exists today. A prayer group came into being and gave great witness to God and the Good News of Jesus. By 1972 a crisis arose among the prayer group members. The issue centered on whether the prayer meeting should include a Catholic mass. The prayer group was composed of members of several Christian denominations. The question finally solidified into, “Should the prayer group be ecumenical in membership or haveCatholic members only?”
These 4 men: A Catholic priest—Fr. Mike Burke, and founders Dr. Kevin Murrell, Dale Clark and Bill Beatty went on retreat to seek the Lord for an answer. Within 30 minutes the Lord told them clearly that the group was to be ecumenical. The remainder of the retreat focused on forming covenant community, which occurred in 1973 with 12 adults. Although the original 12 adults were all Catholic, the Lord immediately began adding Protestants to their numbers. The community bought a common property that same year and moved into a low income, impoverished neighborhood. At the same time, they put all their money and possessions in common. And like the scripture in Acts 2 says, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Though Alleluia Community members don’t live in total sharing of goods anymore, we do strive to live a simple life style and most of us still live in and around Faith Village.
In 1981 we started a school which begins with Kindergarten and ends with 13 years of education. The school is ecumenical—both Protestant and Catholic teachers and students. So far the school has produced a number of Catholic priests and there continues to be a number of school alumni currently in seminary to become priests. It has also produced Catholic religious and Protestant church leadership and ministers. The covenant communities have been challenged by Church leadership to provide both a solid formation and to evangelize. The Alleluia Community School provides such a solid formation, as does our community formation program. We use a biblical formation and also use both Catholic and Protestant sources for formation. Truth is truth no matter where it comes from.
We make a real effort to learn about and even learn from the beliefs and practices of other denominations than our own—recognizing the gifts each other bring. This is in direct response to the “Decree on Ecumenism” and “Ut Unim Sint” which speaks of separated communities having gifts that can help in the edification of the Catholic Church. We do this while learning about our own doctrines and traditions. We are able to discuss an issue more intelligently when we understand more about the religious tradition or set of beliefs, from which another brother or sister comes.
When it comes to evangelization, we often do it together, especially through Life in the Spirit Seminars. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity published a directory of the “Application of the Principles and Norms of Ecumenism” which encourages joint evangelism. It states very clearly, “the destiny of evangelization is certainly bound up with the witness of unity given by the Church.”
Because we follow the Church’s teaching from “The Decree on Ecumenism”, we never have to concern ourselves about trying to proselytize or convert one another into our particular faith. The Decree states, Thus, when someone converts to Catholicism it is a work of the Spirit and at the same time, ecumenism’s goal is not to try to convert fellow members to our belief system. Ecumenism that tries to convert the other is dead in the water from the start. As our bishop has stated clearly to us, “A very, very important dimension (of ecumenism) is to stop asking the other party to be converted. That’s not the purpose of ecumenism. You be converted! That’s the invitation of the Holy Spirit.”
The concept of “spiritual ecumenism” which is well defined in the “Decree on Ecumenism”, is the call given by God to all Christians. Unfortunately, many Christians seem to ignore or don’t know about this concept. However, the Alleluia Community has had a particular grace to understand and put spiritual ecumenism into full practice.
The Vatican Council defined spiritual ecumenism in these words, “All the faithful should remember that the more effort they make to live holier lives according to the Gospel, the better they will further Christian unity and put it into practice. For the closer their union with the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, the more deeply and easily will they be able to grow into mutual brotherly love. This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement and merits the name ‘spiritual ecumenism’.”
In Alleluia, through our covenant and Rule of Life, we daily lay down our lives in service to one another. The love we bear for one another has increased 100 fold. Rarely does being Protestant or Catholic become an issue, but we see one another as a brother or sister in Christ in which we daily lay down our life for each other. Our prayer and worship together has become one of mystical communion with God and with each other. Graces of contemplative prayer are being showered upon Alleluia where Protestants and Catholics together have re-discovered John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila This is truly a miracle of God’s grace.
In “Ut Unim Sint”, John Paul II described a perfect level of communion between Protestants and Catholics. He states, “This communion is already perfect in what we all consider the highest of the life of grace, ‘martyria’ unto death. Alleluia members have not yet been called to shed their blood for Christ and His Gospel. But at the level of living the Paschal mystery so intensely for so many years, there is no question that we are already linked arm in arm on the battlefield, come what may. We are all on the same journey to become saints. The theological differences no longer overshadow the deep communion that is being wrought by the Spirit of God. As John Paul states, “these saints come from all the Churches and Ecclesial communities which gave them entrance into the communion of salvation.” Every Nov. 1st, we celebrate our common destiny by dressing up as saints from the bible and our various Christian traditions—from Mother Teresa to Martin Luther and John Wesley.
Every year, churches celebrate the Week of Christian Unity in January. We have a hard time entering into that week because that week is no different than every other week of the year in Alleluia. We do almost everything in common on a daily basis, except when our official Catholic and Protestant Fellowships meet, and when we celebrate the sacraments in our own congregations or parishes.
Here are just a few things that are part of our daily life or part of our outreach. The community has an ecumenical council made up primarily of ordained Catholic and Protestant clergy members who meet monthly. It is a great opportunity to discuss and work together for unity within the community as well as to dialogue respectfully about our various church traditions and doctrines.
Also, throughout the school year, the Alleluia Community hosts a monthly meeting/lunch with Alleluia clergy and other area clergy. This group, called the South Augusta Pastors’ Alliance, has done much to foster unity and collaboration on ecumenical events. These events include hosting a National Day of Prayer each year for the city of Augusta in May. We also sponsor a large cross-walk every year on Good Friday the includes hundreds of people from many churches. We are a major catalyst for prolife work in the city of Augusta. We have conducted education initiatives which enlighten clergy and counselors on the radical homosexual agenda and help for those who suffer from same sex attraction. A significant urban renew project is underway in the city of Augusta due to the collaboration of Alleluia and the local pastors. One of our members founded a Food Bank about 30 years ago. This ministry has fed many 1000s of people in the Southeast U.S. and it includes a soup kitchen that feeds several hundred poor in Augusta daily. We also helped to found an ecumenical prison ministry called Kairos, that has reached thousands of prisoners for Christ.
Because Alleluia Community has been ecumenical from its beginning, the numbers of ecumenical conferences, outreaches, prayer meetings and events could not be enumerated. St. Augustine said, that the sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit is “love of the unity”. As Fr. Cantalamesa says, “we need to say that the Holy Spirit is at work today above all where we find lively enthusiasm for Christian unity, where people work for it and where they are willing to suffer to achieve it.” Alleluia sees itself as a prophetic voice for Christian unity. We close with one other voice for Christian unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, former head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
“One day the gift of unity will take us by surprise, just like an event we witnessed in 1989. If you had asked passers-by in West Berlin on the morning of 9 November, 1989, ‘How much longer do you think the wall will remain standing’? the majority would surely have replied, ‘We would be happy if our grandchildren could pass through the Brandenburg Gate some day’”. Cardinal Kasper goes on to say, “On the evening of the memorable day the world saw something totally unexpected in Berlin. It is my firm conviction that one day we too will rub our eyes in amazement that God’s Spirit has broken through the seemingly insurmountable walls that divide us and given us new ways through to each other and to a new communion. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another 400 years.”
Amen! Come Holy Spirit
Alleluia's Call to Ecumenism
Unity in the Body of Christ is imporant to Jesus. We see this in His prayer in John 17. Because it is important to Jesus, it is part of our work as disciples to pray and work for Christian unity. It is true for Christians everywhere. For the Alleluia Community, it is a special call, challenge, and pleasure. Because it is so important, the devil attacks us in every way he can. Because it is so important, we must resist the devil's tactics and "be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves." We stand as a community in testimony to the work of unity that the Holy Spirit is doing among Christians across traditions, over the entire world. Together we strive to live a practical day-to-day unity of love and fellowship. Together we pray for the officals in our denominations to find a way to resolve the differences between us. Together we each strive for holiness and truth. Together we work to maintain loving relationships in spite of our differences, being "quick to forgive and ask forgiveness." Together we pray with Jesus, "Father make them (us) one." Together we say with Jesus, "For man it is impossible; but for God all things are possible!" (Matt.19:26)
Those of us living in an ecumenical environment face a dilemma the must be resolved if we are to thread the needle of remaining faithful to our denominational traditions..."in the manner which guards and protects the work of the unity that God is doing in the Alleluia Community." We must find ways to practice, foster, and pass on to our children our particular denomination's heritage and way of life, while maintaining the prophetic witness of our multi-denomination unity. Some of this process takes place in families, some in the churches to which Alleluia families belong.
We have found that there is a need to find a way to move these elements forward within the community experience as well. To do this, we have developed "Fellowships," groupings in the Community that help foster elements of the Christian life that are specific to the members of a subgrouping (i.e., Catholic or Protestant), or denomination. In Alleluia we have formed two such Fellowships, the Catholic Fellowship and the Protestant Fellowship.
The Catholic Fellowship
The Alleluia Catholic Fellowship was established in 1991. Bishop Raymonds Lessard, then the Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Savannah, encouraged and helped the Fellowship obtain canonical recognition. This means that the Catholic Church officially recognizes this Fellowship as a genuine work of God and accepts the Catholic Fellowship as a formal and legal entity within the Roman Catholic Church.
The Catholic Fellowship provides four functions for Roman Catholics in the Alleluia Community:
It gives its members the opportunity of further strengthening their Catholic identity -- especially through teaching and days of renewal.
It is a means to pass on Catholic identity to the next generation.
Because its members are charismatic, they bring the operative gifts of the Holy Spirit to the diocesan church.
The Fellowship, because it is an official entity, can be a model to the Catholic Church. It is a living prophecy to the church to build an alternate society. It speaks directly to Catholics at large about Christian unity because it is couched within the existence of a functioning ecumenical community.
Since the founding of the Catholic Fellowship in 1992, seven men who are from the Community or are graduates of the Alleluia Community's ecumenical school have been ordained priests. Another seven Alleluia School graduates are in formation to become priests at the time of this writing. Several deacons have also been ordained or are in formation, and three of our Alleluia School graduates are now fully professed women religious.
In 1994, the Alleluia Catholic Fellowship was admitted to the International Fraternity of Catholic Covenant Communities and Fellowships. This is a private association of the faithful through the Pontifical Council of the Laity in Rome. This has served to strengthen the Catholic identity of Alleluia Catholic members and to provide a way for Alleluia to promote ecumenism among member communities.
The Protestant Fellowship
Although the Protestant Fellowship Currently has no formal agreement and has limited structure, it is an important development in the life of the Alleluia Community. With the larger portion of the population of Alleluia being Roman Catholic, Alleluia Protestants need the encouragement that mutuality brings.
Included in the Alleluia Protestant Fellowhip are the following traditions:
(Includes several ordained clergy.)
While it is not possible to have complete doctrinal unity, there is considerable spiritual unity in the group. This unity translates into a very positive environment for community members as well community guests.
Most of the Protestant Fellowship activities occur during community retreats and birthday celebrations. Other gatherings include times of fellowship, worship, and Lord's Day meals. Praying for more Protestants to join Alleluia is an ongoing priority of the Alleluia Protestant Fellowships.
As with the Catholic Fellowship, the Protestant Fellowship is directly overseen by the Alleluia Community elders.