By Richard J. Mammana Jr.
Global, national, and local religious leaders gathered at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine on September 8 for the inauguration of an intentional ecumenical community called the Community at the Crossing.
The brainchild of the cathedral’s acting dean, the Rev. Dr. Patrick Malloy, the Community at the Crossing has been in formation for seven years as an emerging work of the Roman Catholic-originated Chemin Neuf movement, which has 2,000 permanent members in 30 countries.
The community will be an intentional center for worship, service, study, and ecumenism, like the Community of St. Anselm at Lambeth Palace. One member of the Community of St. Anselm is a founder of the Community at the Crossing.
The Community at the Crossing takes its name from the area of a cross-shaped cathedral where the two axes meet.
The model of ecumenical monasticism draws on the communities at Taizé in France and Chevetogne in Belgium, where Christians of differing liturgical and theological backgrounds share daily life in the highest degree of communion possible while undertaking ministries of service, formation, and education.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry offered a blessing and reflection on the gifts of intentional Christian community as he welcomed the assembly: “These religious communities and the lives of the religious have often been lighthouses to help human civilization finds its way to a way of life grounded more deeply in the ways of compassion, in the ways of justice, in the ways of kindness, in the way of God’s love.” He commended the community for “showing us the way to find life abundant meant for each.”
Pope Francis was the first homilist in a multilingual service, bringing video greetings of encouragement in Spanish to the community’s initial members: “The future of faith in our world passes through Christian unity. My heart rejoices when I think that the Catholic archdiocese and the Episcopal diocese are working hand in hand. … Dear young people who will spend a year here of community life, Christian formation and discernment, prayer, service to the youth and the poor: you will be a witness to God’s love and tenderness.”
A large congregation witnessed the launch of the community, along with a processed choir of monastics from Roman Catholic and Anglican backgrounds, and clergy from African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Armenian Apostolic, Evangelical Lutheran, Mennonite, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Reformed, and United Methodist churches. The two-hour service of Choral Evensong was webcast live and concluded with a candlelight reception for the community’s new members and their guests.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby also brought greetings in a recorded homily for what he called “an almost miraculous occasion: the birth of a new community.” He described the legacy of the Chemin Neuf community at Lambeth, and the gifts Chemin Neuf will bring to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, as well as New York City as a whole.
“The religious life matters profoundly to the Church,” Welby said. “It has always been the place where renewal begins. Without communities of prayer, one doesn’t see renewal. The Community at the Crossing is a sign of renewal in the world, in your city, in the Church.”
An Orthodox priest read a third homily written by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the first among equals for Orthodox Christians, following Scripture readings in French and English and a Magnificat and Nunc dimittis setting by young Pennsylvania composer and organist Daniel Ficarri.
“Today you are establishing an ecumenical community at the heart of one the largest, liveliest cities in the world: a door to the compassionate nature of God, and a door to the communal nature of the Church,” said the patriarch. “Such is surely the authentic expression of monasticism.
“Monasticism has never existed for itself, but has always burned like a candle of intercession to the loving Lord for the life of the world. Our hope and prayer for this new house of Chemin Neuf is that it may become a place of contemplation and consolation, another bronze door that will reflect the light of Christ to the world and welcome all those that labor and are heavy laden.”
The Rt. Rev. Dennis V. Proctor, president of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church’s board of bishops, led intercessions “for the completion of the good work begun among us today,” and for the four inaugural members of the community.
Bishop Andrew Dietsche of the Episcopal Diocese of New York preached a fourth homily at the end of the service, offering the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral as a statement of ecumenical values that the Community of the Crossing will embody, and sharing stories from his life and ministry about the power of healthy ecumenical relations.
He blessed the assembly and the retiring procession, which sang a hymn to the tune of Gustav Holst’s Thaxted with the words “O God beyond all praising.” The tune, with the words “I vow to thee, my country,” is used regularly at church and cultural events in the United Kingdom.
Richard Mammana is an independent scholar, ecumenist, and the archivist of The Living Church.