Clergy and lay people from the Evangelical Lutheran, Catholic, Episcopal and United Methodist churches are participating in a Day of Theology on Christian Unity and an evening prayer service today at Messiah Lutheran Church in Marquette.
The event will focus on the most recent report of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue in the United States called “The Hope of Eternal Life.” The 65-page report was finalized in October 2010 after members of the eleventh round of the dialogue studied the topic for nearly five years. The report explored issues related to the Christian’s life beyond death, such as the communion of saints, resurrection of the dead, final judgment, purgatory, indulgences, and prayers for the dead.
The speakers for the day will be the co-chairs of this round of the dialogue, the Most Reverend Richard J. Sklba, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and the Reverend Lowell G. Almen, former secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
“We are very fortunate to have Bishop Sklba and Pastor Almen with us. No one understands the ecumenical situation in North America better than these two men,” noted Bishop Thomas A. Skrenes of the Northern Great Lakes Synod of the ELCA. “Pastor Almen has been a leader in Christian reconciliation for 30 years and Bishop Sklba is known among Lutherans as a wonderful friend and trusted Christian partner. It is an honor to have them together in Marquette.”
This day of discussion and worship started on the Feast Day of St. Nicholas, (December 6), with presentations by Bishop Sklba and Pastor Almen that are geared toward the clergy. Most of the day will involve short presentations and a panel geared for lay and other interested persons will address the question: “How do we move forward?” That continues until 3:30 p.m.
Bishop Alexander K. Sample said that he is truly looking forward to this day, which he expects to be fruitful. “In this Year of Faith for the Catholic Church, it is an opportune time to also recall the renewed emphasis that the Second Vatican Council placed on our ecumenical relationships with other Christians. This day will be a time to come together in serious theological discussion with our brothers and sisters and to pray with them,” Bishop Sample stated.
A prayer service and reception beginning at 6:30 p.m. is open to all at Messiah Lutheran Church in Marquette. Area judicatory leaders will lead the service, including Bishop Sample, Bishop Skrenes, Bishop Rayford Ray of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan and the Rev. Elbert Dulworth, District Superintendent of the Marquette District Office of the United Methodist Church. Bishop Sklba will deliver the homily at the prayer service, while the St. Paul Sunday Choir from Negaunee will lead the music.
“Our work as Christians in the Upper Peninsula is strengthened by the warm personal relationships between the leaders of the faith community,” Bishop Skrenes noted. “There is a genuine affection between Christian denominations here. We stand together to proclaim Jesus Christ.”
Pastor Lowell Almen was ordained in 1967 from Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. with a master of divinity degree. He served as a pastor in Wis. and as an associate campus minister and director of communications for Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. He was also the editor of The Lutheran Standard, the official publication of the American Lutheran Church.
Pastor Almen was elected Secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1987 and served until his retirement in 2007. He has visited Geneva, Rome, Canterbury, and Istanbul for ecumenical conversations. He was a member of the tenth and eleventh rounds of the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue.
Bishop Sklba is a native of Racine, Wis. and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in 1959 in Rome. He holds the equivalent of an advanced master’s degree in Sacred Scripture and the equivalent of a doctoral degree in biblical studies.
Bishop Sklba served as a parish priest, as well as a teacher and rector of St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee, before being ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in 1979. He also served as chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs from 2005-2008 and has co-chaired the national Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue since 1998. Bishop Sklba retired in 2010, but as bishop emeritus, he continues to provide weekend help at parishes and presides at Confirmations.
Together, Bishop Sklba and Pastor Almen edited “The Hope for Eternal Life: Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue XI,” which can found on the USCCB website at: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/dialogue-with-others/ecumenical/lutheran/upload/The-Hope-of-Eternal-Life1.pdf. The book can also be ordered through Lutheran University Press at www.lutheranupress.org.