By Susan Bailey
“We are the salt; we are the light.” These words from the Rev. Conway Campbell, pastor of the Grace Baptist Church in Shrewsbury and dean of campus life at Assumption College, set forth the challenge of this year’s annual Ecumenical Prayer for Christian Unity held at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Assumption College on Feb. 12.
Among the church leaders present were Bishop McManus; Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, New England Conference, United Methodist Church; Rt. Rev. Douglas John Fisher, Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts; His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios, Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston.
The service began with a candlelight procession of worshippers who sang, “Dona Nobis Pacem” led by the combined choirs of Assumption College Chapel, directed by Margaret Tartaglia, and the Hispanic Choir of St. Joan of Arc Parish, Worcester, directed by John Rodriguez. Lit candles were set in containers of sand in front of the altar to symbolize all Christians as cities on a hill and lamps filling rooms with light.
The Rev. Meredyth Wessman Ward, Urban Missioner in Worcester for the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, led prayers to the Holy Spirit, asking the Spirit to come down upon all gathered. After a rousing rendition of “All Creatures of Our God and King” in English and Spanish, the Rev. Campbell led prayers of reconciliation.
To symbolize unity in diversity, the first reading (Isaiah 55:1-3) was read in Vietnamese by the Reverend Ai Nguyen Chi, A.A. of Assumption College. The second reading (Galatians 3:26-29) was read in French by Florence Mourere of Grace Baptist Church, Shrewsbury. Psalm 145, “I will praise your name, my King and my God,” was sung in English and Spanish while the Gospel (Matthew 5:1-16, the Sermon on the Mount) was proclaimed in English by Deacon Richard Martino.
The Rev. Campbell’s sermon focused on the declarations of Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Such a statement, according to the Rev. Campbell, left no room for options: “We are the collective body of believers — we must be collective salt, the only salt of the earth is you!”
He described several characteristics of salt: as a flavor-enhancer that penetrates the food, a preservative that protects the food and as something that stimulates thirst. As salt Christians are called to be flavorful people of influence who help to stir up a longing for Christ and preserve the lives of others.
While salt is more hidden, the Rev. Campbell spoke about light as being visible and revealing: “For light to be effective, it must be on.” Christians are meant to be seen by the world just like a city on a hill. We cannot hide ourselves out of fear but rather be visible to our sphere of influence, meaning to all those with whom we have personal contact. “A room may only have one lamp to light it,” he said.
After a period of silent reflection followed by the recitation of the Apostle’s Creed, the Prayers of Intercession were read by Jacqueline Galvinhill, a member of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Holden and a student at the College of the Holy Cross, class of 2018.
During the offering in support of Ascentria Care Alliance of Worcester, a practical challenge was issued by Lisa Brennan, program manager of the Services for New Americans, to be that salt and light. She spoke with passion about the plight “our newest neighbors,” the refugees from the Middle East, and how we must welcome them and care for them despite the political pushback. She described a program of peers – a group of four to six volunteers assigned to each family to help them assimilate – and invited worshippers to volunteer.
The service came to a close with a spirited rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” by the combined choirs. Each participant was given a decorative sack filled with salt as a tangible reminder to bring the Good News to the world as Christ commanded.