A fragmented Church and the prayer of Jesus

Father David Epps's picture

[Editor’s note: The community service mentioned below is this Friday, noon to 1:30 p.m., at the Peachtree City First United Methodist Church on Robinson Road near its intersection with Ga. Highway 54.]

There was a time when the Church was one. There had been heresies, defections, and departures but, for the most part, for a thousand years there was the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”

In 1054, in an event known as “The Great Schism,” the Christian Church was torn asunder and the Western Church and the Eastern Church were divorced from each other, though both continued to claim title to the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”

A half millennia later, the Church was again rocked by division and the fragmentation begun in the Protestant Reformation has continued to the present time.

Today, there are some 28,000 denominations that hold, more or less, to the basic essentials of the Christian faith.
We seem to be far from the fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus who asked, “... I pray also for those who will believe in me ... that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17: 20, 21 NIV). One can understand the skepticism of the world as it sees anything but unity and oneness in the followers of Christ.

Yet, on Good Friday in Peachtree City, Ga., a small sign of unity occurs once a year. For 28 years, pastors and people have been gathering at noon for an hour and a half to focus on the enormous sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, to share in a common liturgy, to read scriptures, to sing, to pray, and to worship.

Over 1,000 believers from nearly every expression of the faith gather in a church large enough to hold them and share, for a time at least, their common faith.

Host churches in recent days have included Christ Our Shepherd Lutheran, Holy Trinity Catholic, First Baptist, Peachtree City Christian, Peachtree City Presbyterian, and, during the current season, Peachtree City United Methodist.

When I first became part of the Peachtree City Community Good Friday Service, I was the new kid on the block. Twenty-five Good Fridays later, I find myself the old man of the group.

I am still amazed, after all this time, at the diversity represented by the participating pastors. For the last several years, Dr. George S. Dillard III, of the Peachtree City Christian Church, has done the hard work of leadership in continuing the tradition, and the crowds and participation have continued to grow.

In 2009, it is on the Friday before the holiest day on the church calendar that clergy from the Peachtree City United Methodist Church, Holy Trinity Catholic Church, St Christopher’s Hellenic Orthodox Church, First Baptist Church, All Saints Anglican Church, First Presbyterian Church, Christ the King Charismatic Episcopal Church, Christ Our Shepherd Lutheran Church, and the Peachtree City Christian Church lead the community in a common Christian celebration and observance.

In the past, the list has also included ministers from the Church of Christ, the Assemblies of God, the Episcopal Church, and others.

A common offering is received that is directed toward the Fayette Samaritans, a local group that meets people’s needs through rent assistance, utilities, food, clothing, and caring.

The Peachtree City Kiwanis Club faithfully serves as ushers and those clergy who are not fasting on Good Friday share a meal.

We still cannot all gather around a common table and share the bread and the wine (or grape juice in some traditions); there is still much that keeps us apart.

But for 28 years, for an hour and a half on Good Friday, the distinctions blur and the person of Christ comes into sharper focus.

When one looks at the thousand or so who gather each Good Friday, one cannot tell a Pentecostal from a Presbyterian or a Baptist from an Anglican. For a time, the fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus does not seem so impossible.

[Father David Epps is the founding pastor of Christ the King Church, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277, between Peachtree City and Newnan. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. He serves as a bishop to the Diocese of the Mid-South and is also the mission pastor of Christ the King Church in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at frepps@ctkcec.org.]

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