A tale of how Mormon leaders came to a papal prayer service in NYC

On April 18, 2008, I attended Pope Benedict XVI’s prayer service in New York City with more than 250 Christian leaders from just about every Christian tradition around.

I didn’t know, and I don’t remember reading anywhere, that two leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were there. In the second row.

There is a extremely interesting tale of the “behind the scenes” decision-making process that led to the seating of two Mormon leaders in the summer edition of Ecumenical Trends, published by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement in Garrison. It was written by Father James Massa, head of ecumenical and interreligious affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Here’s the thing: Mormons consider themselves to be Christians. But the Catholic Church — and most mainstream Christian denominations — disagree.

For one thing, Mormons do not accept the Trinity. They believe the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be three Gods who are “one in purpose,” but NOT one God in three persons.

So when the LDS church asked to be included in a papal event, the question facing Massa was: Which one?

Should he include them in the prayer service for Christians or a second meeting with representatives of non-Christian religions?

What a religious quandary!

Massa writes that the LDS leadership has been much more visible in recent years, working with other faiths on social and cultural issues. And Catholics and Mormons have a lot in common when it comes to issues of public morality, he notes.

The Bishops Conference asked the Vatican for advice, but was told that they were in a “better position than the Holy See to make the decision,” Massa writes.

He also writes:

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One member of my staff wisely counseled that I speak with the offices of key Orthodox and Evangelical leaders who might register the most discomfort knowing that they would be participating in the April 18 prayer service with Mormons. Such are the ironies of today’s ecumenical engagements: Officers for Catholic Bishops calling Orthodox hierarchs and Evangelical megapastors to make sure they have no strong objections to Mormons being invited to a prayer service with the Pope! The answer came back: “Yes, they can come. But don’t make them too prominent!”

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And so two members of the Quorum of the Twelve — the second-highest leadership body in the LDS church — were invited to the ecumenical prayer service for Christians.

Elder Quentin L. Cook and Elder M. Russell Ballard sat in the second row at St. Joseph’s Church.

Massa concludes his engaging piece (Ecumenical Trends is not on-line, so you can’t read it) with this:

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Heaven may yet hold surprises even greater than was evident back in April 2008, when the Bishop of Rome called an assembly of Christians to prayer with the words: “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all”; and two Mormon elders, representing the first world religion to have arisen since Islam, responded: “And also with you.”

Ecumenical line-up for papal prayer service in NYC announced

On April 18, Pope Benedict XVI will lead an ecumenical prayer service at St. Joseph’s Church in Manhattan with some 250 national and regional Protestant and Orthodox leaders.

Today, the U.S. Bishops Conference identified the 10 national and 5 New York-based ecumenical leaders who will greet the pope at the end of the ceremony.

The 15 leaders (with descriptions provided by the USCCB) are:

Archbishop Demetrios of America, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America and Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In June 2003, the Archbishop led the delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Vatican for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. He serves as Chairman of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas.

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America. Archbishop Barsamian is a member of the international dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and is Chairman of the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches in the United States.

Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, legate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) in Washington and ecumenical officer. He became President of the National Council of Churches USA January 1, 2008.

Rev. Dr. Donald McCoid, representing Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is Director of the Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations Office of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

tjndc5-5bwqjs6v9gke8whsk07_layout.jpgBishop Jeremiah J. Park (that’s him), Bishop of the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Rev. Dr. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America since 1994, and one of the five Presidents of Christian Churches Together in the USA, representing the historic Protestant family.

Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) since 1996.

Rev. Dr. William J. Shaw, President of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., since 1999. Dr. Shaw serves as one of the five Presidents of Christian Churches Together in the USA, representing the Racial/Ethnic family of churches.

Bishop James Leggett, General Superintendent of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, a position he had held since 1997. Bishop Leggett is the Evangelical/Pentecostal President of Christian Churches Together in the USA.

Dr. Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and senior pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota since 1977.

Leaders from the New York area who will personally greet the pope include

tjndc5-5b4dn9wibkh19ismnb6_layout.jpgBishop David H. Benke, president of the Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Rev. Benke was elected president of the Atlantic District in 1991, and has been re-elected five times, most recently in 2006. He is also the primary ecumenical leader for the Nehemiah Project which provides housing for the poor in New York City.

Rev. Dr. A. R. Bernard Sr., President of the Council of Churches of the City of New York and founder and Senior Pastor of The Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York. He is also host of two weekly television programs, Faith in Practice with A. R. Bernard and The A. R. Bernard Show.

Elder Bernice A. King, the second daughter and youngest child of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. With her brother Martin Luther King III, she has been active in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference once led by their father. She is currently an elder at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia.

Rev. Jimmy Seong G. Lim, Executive Director of the Council of Churches of the City of New York. Rev. Lim has served the Council of Churches of the City of New York since 1999. Rev. Lim is an ordained minister in The Reformed Church in America.

tjndc5-5b5gdshjkhjkhqb5ezi_layout.jpgThe Right Rev. Mark S. Sisk, the 15th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. Bishop Sisk was consecrated Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of New York in 1998. Prior to his election as coadjutor, Bishop Sisk served as President and Dean of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.