On Sunday, June 18, 2000 (one week after Pentecost), four bishops in Michigan signed a covenant.
The Rt. Rev. Edward L. Lee, Jr. (of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan); The Rt. Rev. Edwin Leidel (of the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Michigan); The Rt. Rev. Gary Hansen (of the N/W Lower Michigan Synod); and The Most Rev. Patrick R. Cooney (of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gaylord) affirmed and attested to the understanding and belief that:
“It is the will of our Lord Jesus that all his disciples be one. Encouraged by the international, national and regional dialogues among Lutherans, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics, we celebrate the faithful initiative of our church leaders, past and present, in fostering church unity. Recognizing the desire for the eventual union of Lutheran, Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, we the Bishops and the people of the above named Synod and Dioceses make this joint affirmation and solemn covenant.”
Thus, the annual LARC (Lutherans, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics) Retreat was born.
With the exception of 2020 due to COVID, over the years, LARC has provided an annual in-person educational and restful forty-eight hour retreat (over three days and at the Augustine Center in Conway), with the three denominations taking yearly turns “hosting” (securing the speaker) and sharing the leading of daily worship, i.e. an Episcopal day of worship, a Lutheran day of worship, and a Roman Catholic day of worship (the longer middle day of worship corresponding to the “hosting” denomination).
And over the years many of our various bishops have attended and supported our efforts. And since the warp and woof of liturgical worship was familiar to all three denominations –– and was one of the primary considerations which brought the three denominations together in the first place –– we were able to share theological reflection, fellowship, meals, and worship together; though some of the fuller expressions of the unity we’ve hoped to achieve (as expressed in the covenant’s introductory paragraph above) have remained somewhat elusive since, for example, we are unable to share in Roman Catholic Eucharist; and they in ours. We have, however, lived through that tension and remained faithful to the covenant’s stated intent, knowing that the Spirit sometimes moves more slowly than we would like.
But as ecumenical and interreligious efforts (like the Kaufman Interfaith Institute in Grand Rapids) have gained traction both in Michigan and around the world, the LARC Planning Committee has sought to broaden its ecumenical outreach to other Christian denominations. And at its 2021 retreat, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, and the Dominican Sisters were represented as well. And so riding on this wave of expanded representation and increased attendance, LARC’s leadership heard the call of the Holy Spirit to similarly change and expand the retreat’s name from LARC to ECM –– the Ecumenical Community of Michigan.
Our 2022 Retreat will offer not only an expanded invitation to other denominations, but will provide an additional day of contemplation, reflection, education, fellowship, and new patterns of worship as well. Its title is Beholding God in Creation, and will be led by Pastor Steve Thomas (M. Div.), who has rich experience in spiritually and ecologically based retreats, and serves as the national coordinator for the Mennonite Men organization. More details will be forthcoming; but for now, please mark your calendars for ECM: October 10 at 4:PM through Oct 13 at 1:PM.
The Rev. Mike Wernick
Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer
The Dioceses of Eastern and Western Michigan