Fargo Catholics and Lutherans gather to reflect on the 500-year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

by Paul Braun


Catholic and Lutheran clergy join to pray for Christian unity at First Lutheran Church in Fargo. l to r: Msgr. Joseph Goering, Rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral; Rev. Corey Bjertness, Senior Pastor at First Lutheran; Most Rev. John Folda, Bishop of Fargo Diocese; Bishop Terry Brandt, Eastern North Dakota Synod of the ELCA. (Paul Braun | New Earth)

“Catholics and Lutherans embrace each other as sisters and brothers in the Lord. Together they rejoice in the truly Christian gifts that they both have received and rediscovered in various ways through the renewal and impulses of the Reformation. These gifts are reason for thanksgiving.”

With those words, Msgr. Joseph Goering, Rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo, joined Rev. Corey Bjertness of Fargo’s First Lutheran Church in a reflection of thanksgiving to open a joint worship service for Catholics and Protestants at First Lutheran Church and St. Mary’s Cathedral, both in Fargo on Nov. 5.

The service was held to commemorate and reflect on the past 500 years since the Protestant Reformation, but also on where Catholics and Protestants may find common ground now and in the future. The service opened at First Lutheran Church, attended by over 400 people, who then processed across Broadway Avenue to St. Mary’s Cathedral to conclude the service.

In a joint letter to Catholic and Protestant faithful, Bishop John Folda of the Diocese of Fargo and Bishop Terry Brandt of the Eastern North Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), referenced a meeting in Sweden a year earlier, where Pope Francis and Bishop Dr. Munib Younan of the Lutheran World Federation, signed a joint statement saying that Catholics and Lutherans would “Celebrate the common witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ we share, and walk toward visible Christian unity, which is Christ’s prayer for us.”


Bishop Terry Brandt, ELCA and Bishop John Folda reflect during a joint worship service at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo. (Paul Braun | New Earth)

Since then, according to Bishop Folda and Bishop Brandt, the past year has seen Catholics and Lutherans jointly looking back on the event of the Reformation, and reflecting on 50 years of official worldwide ecumenical dialogue. “Now more than ever, we are beginning to see reconciliation between us, and we are looking into the future with hope.”

The services included music sung by a joint Catholic/Protestant choir, homilies by Bishop Folda and Bishop Brandt, and the reading of the Five Commitments drafted last year by the participants of the world gathering in Sweden, which are:

• Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common, even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced.

• Catholics and Lutherans should again commit themselves to seek visible unity, to elaborate together what this means in concrete steps, and to strive repeatedly toward this goal.

• Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves to continuously be transformed by the encounter with the other and by mutual witnesses of faith.

• Catholics and Lutherans should witness together for the mercy of God in proclamation and service to the world.

• Lutherans and Catholics should jointly rediscover the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ for our time.

In his homily at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Bishop Folda encouraged us to put aside our differences and seek a common understanding.

“When we realize our Lord’s clear desire that all of his followers should be one, we cannot be satisfied with the state of affairs that we find ourselves in. We cannot just resign ourselves to the separations that still exist. The quest for unity in Christ is an imperative, and not just a nice thing to wish for. It is a necessary part of who we are as followers of Christ. And this unity is not something we can accomplish on our own, by sheer force of will or convincing argument. No, it is a gift of grace, and it requires an openness from us, a willingness to receive that grace.”

Bishop Folda went on to say, “I pray that each one of us here and all our brothers and sisters will experience the love of God in an ever deeper way, so that we may be signs of hope and instruments of peace and love in a fractured world. And let us never forget the powerful prayer of Jesus for each one of us: ‘That they may all be one.’”