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Church leaders show unity

Posted By January 30, 2015 | 11:28 am | Lead Story #2
Photo by Tanya Connor
The Rev. Nancy Strong pours water into a “baptismal bowl” during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service Friday at Assumption College. Behind her is the Rev. Andrew Heisen. They represented local Episcopal and Lutheran bishops, respectively. 

Jackie Weiler, playing the Samaritan woman, comes to the “well”
where Ralph Cola, playing Jesus, waits. Behind them, Jesus’ disciples watch. The Assumption College students were dramatizing the Gospel for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service Friday in the college’s chapel.
Photo by Tanya Connor The Rev. Nancy Strong pours water into a “baptismal bowl” during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service Friday at Assumption College. Behind her is the Rev. Andrew Heisen. They represented local Episcopal and Lutheran bishops, respectively. Jackie Weiler, playing the Samaritan woman, comes to the “well” where Ralph Cola, playing Jesus, waits. Behind them, Jesus’ disciples watch. The Assumption College students were dramatizing the Gospel for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service Friday in the college’s chapel.

By Tanya Connor

With Christians being martyred, their search for unity and their shared witness is urgent.
And they are one.
These were among points made at the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service Friday at Assumption College.
The Rev. Laura Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches and a pastor in the United Church of Christ, presented a challenge from the Bible story about a woman she called “the other Good Samaritan.”
She co-led the service with Elder Esau Vance, president of the Worcester Black Clergy Alliance and pastor of Mount Olive Pentecostal Church in Worcester.
They were among church leaders who poured water into a “baptismal bowl” during the procession. The others were Bishop McManus, Metropolitan Methodios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston; the Rev. Nancy Strong, representing Bishop Douglas John Fisher of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts; the Rev. Andrew Heisen, representing Bishop James Eric Hazelwood of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Church in America; and Majors Thomas and Bessie Babbitt, corps officers of the Salvation Army Worcester Citadel.
“We come together this evening as brothers and sisters in Christ who share a common baptism,” Francesco Cesareo, college president, said in his welcome. “In today’s world a shared Christian witness is greatly needed … We cannot forget … our fellow Christians … who are experiencing persecution and martyrdom because of their faith in Jesus Christ, which compels us to walk together as brothers and sisters bearing witness to God’s love and mercy.
“Because of this situation, as Pope Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel, ‘the search for paths to unity becomes all the more urgent.’ Those paths will become clear by walking together with and toward the Lord, supporting one another, learning from one another and conforming ourselves to the image of Christ. … We must pray with each other that the Lord gift us with unity. …
The service included prayers in various languages and a collection for Abby’s House. Justina Lachapelle, development director, said Abby’s House tries to empower  women to lead self-directed lives, treating them individually. Some women come having exhausted their resources, struggling with mental health issues or seeking to escape domestic violence, she said.
Paul Covino, Assumption’s campus ministry director, introduced the Week of Prayer theme: Jesus asking the Samaritan woman at the well, “Give me to drink.” (Jn 4:7) Assumption students dramatized that Gospel.
In her sermon, Rev. Everett complained that this woman is unnamed (despite her testimony that led many to believe in Jesus) and has been characterized as a prostitute (despite no evidence of that).
“She very easily could have been widowed or have been abandoned or divorced,” Rev. Everett said, quoting the Rev. David Lose, New Testament scholar and president of Lutheran Theological Seminar in Philadelphia. “There are any number of ways … that one might imagine this woman’s story as tragic rather than scandalous.”
Rev. Everett said that when people think of Samaritans, they usually think of the unnamed “Good Samaritan” who helped a wounded stranger and gave an innkeeper money to care for him.
She quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King, preaching at Riverside Church in New York in 1967: “…we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but … One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed. … True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
“The temptation of the Good Samaritan parable is to just give our money and let someone else do the messy work of being in relationship with the stranger, or those other people from whom we’ve been separated,” Rev. Everett said.
But the story of the woman at the well shows that God doesn’t just ask for charity towards the stranger; “God wants our intimacy as well,” she said. “Jesus doesn’t just ask to be relieved of his thirst, but wants to know this woman’s life and struggles, to see and be seen, to know and be known.” This woman, conversing with Jesus and witnessing to her village, is the other Good Samaritan.
“Church, I take comfort in the fact that we are already one in Christ,” Rev. Everett continued. Despite division and sometimes hostility, “we who bear the name of Christ are all baptized into the same body. Like it or not, we are brothers and sisters in Christ.  …
“We can pretend like the other doesn’t exist, like the priest and the Levite who pass the wounded stranger on the Jericho road. We can … think our differences are more important than our commonalities. We can forget one another’s names.”
Rev. Everett expressed gratitude for “our Orthodox sisters and brothers” who “remembered and named our Good Samaritan woman, Photini … because to be intimately known requires that we know one another’s names.”
She said the Antiochian tradition remembers St. Photini like this: “She went and told her townspeople that she had met the Christ. For this, she is sometimes recognized as the first to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. She converted her five sisters (SS. Anatole, Photo, Photis, Paraskeve, and Kyriake) and her two sons (Victor and Joses). They all became tireless evangelists for Christ. The apostles of Christ baptized her and gave her the name of Photini which means ‘the enlightened one.’ She is remembered by the Church as a holy martyr and equal to the apostles.”