Week of Christian Unity

St. Mary & St. Mena Coptic Orthodox Church
All over the world, during the last week of January, Christians come together for the week of Christian Unity. Christians from a variety of confessions come together to celebrate not what divides us but what brings us together. Now I know that some hard core Orthodox readers will say that we should not gather at such services and pray with the “heterodox” well I have a much different view and our witness is extremely important and might I add welcome at the table.
Yesterday I had the honor of being selected as the preacher for the Service of the Rhode Island Council of Churches. Each State in the USA has a council made up of all faith groups in the given State. The service was held at St. Mary and St. Mena Coptic Orthodox Church in Hope, Rhode Island. The Church is brand new and actually not completed on the inside. The construction equipment was very evident all over the sanctuary but one could see the potential of what this church would become.
I had never been to a Coptic Orthodox Service before and although this was not a Divine Liturgy we were still given a glimpse of what their service was like.
We gathered at the back of the church to process in. Processions are not part of the Romanian Orthodox Church, and I am actually not sure if they are part of the Coptic Church, but we did process into the Church.
A choir led the way chanting and using little cymbals and a triangle, it was very cool, very joyous and a great way to enter the Church. I would estimate more than 100 people in attendance sitting in folding chairs amidst the dust and plastic covered pieces of the new Church.
The service began with a welcome from the pastor of the Church Fr. Marcos Girgis who explained what the Church would look like when completed. He also gave us some background on the Coptic Orthodox Church founded by St. Mark in Upper Egypt. His daughter Dr. Douaa Girgis then gave the assembled congregation and update on the situation of Christians not only in Egypt but in the Middle East. The situation is grim. We then watched a short, very graphic, video that put into pictures what Dr. Girgis had just explained with words. It was hard not to be moved by the plight of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. During my sermon I challenged the people to get mad and get going and put pressure on the US government to intervene, with more than just money, and put pressure on the international community to do something about this.
I had prepared a text, but as is my custom, I tend to stray from the prepared words and ad lib a little. I have posted the text as another entry but it is only the outline of what I had to say. The most interesting thing and a new experience for me, was that the church uses projection screens and the speaker in the pulpit is projected up on the large walls on either side of the Sanctuary. About half way down there are two large TV screen hanging from poles for the same purpose. They were not in use but I was told this is done because of the large crowd of people that come to the church on Sunday. I was told there are more than 150 kids in the Sunday School! The Church started 20 years ago with about 20 families and now is bursting at the seams with more than 300 families.
It was strange and a little distracting being projected on the big screen but you get used to it. I did say that if I knew I was going to be on the Jumbo Tron I would have spent more time doing my hair!
Overall the service was a wonderful celebration of faith, a shared faith although expressed in different ways. The interesting thing was not only were Lutherans, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Methodists, and Roman Catholics in attendance but we had Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox in attendance. The division among the Christian traditions is sad but the divisions among the Orthodox is very sad, and even the Orthodox are divided in America into different ethnic jurisdictions. The assembled clergy is hopeful that this situation can be rectified soon.
It was an honor to have been invited to preach and an honor to be in the Church of St. Mary and St. Mena. I asked Fr. Marcos to please invite me back when it is completed as I would love to see it.
Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. We in America have no idea what it means to be persecuted for our faith, we need to thank God every day that we live in a country where we can freely worship our chosen god and that we have the ability to gather, as we did yesterday, and celebrate.
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