St. Henry unity program marks Reformation anniversary

Father Bart Okere joined by Rogersville-area Protestant ministers in ecumenical prayer service

By Bill Jones/The Rogersville Review

Oct. 31 marked the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation that fractured the Catholic Church and saw the rise of numerous Protestant denominations.

On Oct. 30, representatives of several Protestant churches in the Rogersville area joined Father Bart Okere at St. Henry Catholic Church for a unity service designed to show that, though separated by doctrine, Catholic and Protestant churches share many matters of common ground when it comes to the Christian faith.

The service, which was sponsored by the Area Church Council of Rogersville, featured the reading of Scripture passages by the ministers and the offering of prayers for unity.

The service began with a greeting from Ellen H. McCoy of St. Henry, who, during her remarks, noted that 2,017 years ago, Jesus was born and 1,987 years ago Jesus died and rose from the dead.

“Then, 500 years ago, we kind of started splitting up,” she said. “Now we need to get back together. We are all His children and we need to remember that. Because He said He was never going to leave us alone. He sent His Spirit here to keep us on track and we would like to stay that way. Let us reflect on why we are here and sing together ‘Amazing Grace,’ which is what He gives us.”

The first three verses of the hymn were then sung by the congregation.

Rev. Sheldon Livesay was the first minister to speak to the congregation. He read Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 11-18, and offered a prayer in which he noted that since the Reformation, the Christian Church has “divided, divided and divided.”

In his prayer, Rev. Livesay pointed out that though different in many ways, various churches can work together.

“We can come together, work together, and make a difference in our state, nation, and the world,” he said during his prayer. “We pray that you (God) will bring us together in unity.”

Also reading Scripture and offering prayers during the service was Rev. Carol Woody, a United Methodist minister, who read Colossians, chapter 1, verses 24-28, before offering a prayer in which she thanked God for sending His son, Jesus Christ, to save us and for the knowledge that Jesus is coming back.

“We pray that we please you in all that we do as we wait for the return of our king,” she prayed in part. Pastor Steven Kimery, an Assemblies of God minister, read Ephesians, chapter 4, verses 1-6, before offering a prayer. In part, he prayed, “kind and precious heavenly Father, we stand here in unity.” He also prayed that “we might be men and women of unity” and noted that “when a challenge arises, we must rise to the challenge.”

Pastor Ricky Brotherton, another Assemblies of God minister, read Corinthians, chapter 12, verses 12-14, and offered a prayer. In part, he thanked God for those who came to the service and asked that God’s will be done on earth. “Father, we pray and ask for your guidance,” he said.

“We ask for your direction. We assemble together to form one body. But God we need direction. We need help, Father. We look to you for it tonight.”

Deacon Tom Kyner, a Lutheran clergyman, read Psalm 133 and also offered a prayer.

During the prayer, he said “Father, you have provided blessings to us, many of which we don’t even recognize.” He also noted that God had sent his Son so that “we might have life through Him.”

Father Bart Okere is joined by Rogersville-area clergy who participated in the unity service, including Rev. Sheldon Livesay, Rev. Carol Woody, Pastor Steven Kimery, Pastor Ricky Brotherton, Deacon Tom Kyner, and Rev. Billy Ray Courtney.

Rev. Billy Ray Courtney of Faith Assembly read 1 Peter, chapter 3, verses 8-12, and also offered a prayer. During his prayer, he said, “Father, you love unity. On the day of Pentecost, when the Church was born, those 120 believers in the upper room in the city of Jerusalem were in one place and one mind and one accord.”

Father Okere, pastor of St. Henry, read Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31-40, and also offered a prayer, in which he said God encourages us to “express our joy, express our love, and express our unity to one another.” He then sang “one bread, one body, one Lord of all … .”

Members of the congregation were then invited to offer their own prayers. Several congregation members and several of the ministers did so. “Lord, hear our prayer,” the congregation said in unison after each prayer request.

In his last prayer, Father Okere said the congregation now has a “road map” to use to work toward greater unity in the Rogersville faith community.

Rev. Courtney, meanwhile, prayed for “families that are broken, families that are hurting, and children that have no mom and dad.”

At the end of the service, Rev. Livesay returned to the lectern at the request of Father Okere and thanked those in attendance for coming.

“This is an important and strategic time in history,” he said, noting that it had been 100 years this month since the Jews were allowed to resettle their nation, 70 years since Israel became a nation again, and 50 years since Jerusalem was retaken by the Jews in the Six Day War.

“Tonight, we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation,” Rev. Livesay said. “As we look back on the Reformation, we see that we began to see the division and splintering of the Church. Tonight we are making a declaration from this place … that in the days to come we will do our part to bring unity back to the body of Christ. We will join arm in arm and hand in hand … to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and visit those that are in prison and sick.

“But we can do more than that. We can stand together for the things that need to be stood for. Those things that God says are important to our nation. We can stand together as his people, as his body and look to him as the head. So tonight, as we leave this place, we make a commitment that ‘I will do my part.’”

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