Ecumenism Alive and Well in the Diocese of Belleville

Heard the expression “When God closes a door, he often opens a window?”

Parishioners of the former St. Francis Xavier Church in St. Francisville know a good deal about windows. That faith community celebrated a closing liturgy Feb. 16, 2014 at the church along the banks of the Wabash River in the eastern part of the diocese.

Their parish roots go deep, back to 1818, and their stained glass windows were legendary, so when the church closed they looked for opportunities to share their love and the beauty of those windows and pews with other church communities.

A number of the windows were refitted for St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church in Ridgway, and in June a number of the remaining windows were visible when Zion United Church of Christ in New Baden was dedicated.

The relationship with Zion and St. George Catholic Church, also in New Baden, has been firmly established through years of cooperation.
The pastor of Zion, the Rev. Gretchen Sterrett, has been the organist for the Saturday evening liturgy at St. George for more than 25 years.
“Somewhere around the time when Father Thomas Barrett was pastor at St. George, she enrolled at Aquinas Institute of Theology, studied and was ultimately awarded a master’s degree in Roman Catholic Liturgy,” Father Eugene Neff, St. George pastor said.

She went to Aquinas, Father Neff said, because “she reasoned that if she was going to be the organist for the Catholic Mass, she ought to have a better understanding of Catholic Liturgy.”

Father Neff said Rev. Sterrett’s children were all at one time or another cantors at St. George until they went off to college.

“I have been fortunate in my friendships with the priests of St. George,” Rev. Sterrett said.  “All of them have had a welcoming spirit and ecumenical hearts, and for that I am and will always be grateful. Therefore, it did not seem at all unusual that the new Zion United Church of Christ would utilize pews and stained glass windows from St. Francis Catholic Church.”

Father Neff sees the windows from St. Francis as a way the “parish has reached out to the people of God well beyond their geographical parish boundaries in new and different ways and places.”

St. Francis also donated pews to Zion. “The pews were donated to Zion out of Love, with the promise that they would honor St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church for there sacrifice and gifts of love,” former parishioner Caroline Trimble said. “It was beautiful to see the pews inside their Church, and it was a blessing to sit in them again.”

Zion and St. George began an Ecumenical Thanksgiving service in 1991 and a Lenten service was begun later.
Now Zion, St. George and New Baden Methodist Church cooperate in a number of ways.

“The Methodists, Catholics, and UCC traded teachers during their vacation bible schools for many years, and cooperate with all the Giving Tree Projects:  food pantry, clothing and household pantry, Christmas and Thanksgiving projects, backpacks for kids, winter coats for kids, and  the Summer Food for Kids project. If there is a need shown, there is always a response from all of us,” Rev. Sterrett said.

The New Baden community moves forward together, with the three churches cooperating to meet the needs of people living in the community.

“We may call ourselves by different names, worship differently, even have differences theologically but the brothers and sisters live in unity here.  It is good and pleasant indeed,” Rev. Sterrett said.