Personal letter to Bridgefolk

From: Schlabach, Gerald W.
Sent: Thursday, May 20, 2004 7:25 AM
To: BRIDGEFOLK@LS.CSBSJU.EDU
Subject: [BRIDGEFOLK] Personal letter from Gerald Schlabach

May 20, 2004

Dear friends:

On May 29, at the Pentecost Vigil service at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church here in St. Paul, I plan to be received into the Catholic Church. This moment has come through a long journey — five years, seven years, twenty years, depending how I count. I can only barely begin to give an account of that journey in a letter such as this. But I do want to say to all of you who have participated in Bridgefolk, or followed its development, what I believe this means for Bridgefolk — and more importantly, what it does not mean.

Four years ago, Joetta and I invited about a dozen friends and colleagues in Bluffton, Ohio, to accompany us through a process of discernment concerning my belief that God was calling me to enter formally into communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The “word” that we heard through that very holy time was “not now.” It especially seemed wise to hold off on any such move after the possibility opened up for another kind of move, to Minnesota and a teaching position at the University of St. Thomas. This has allowed for slower testing and more organic development, as Joetta, the boys and I have found comfortable ways of participating in the life of Faith Mennonite Church in Minneapolis even as I have regularly attended mass at a largely African-American Catholic parish not far from our home in St. Paul. Meanwhile my work as a member of a Catholic theology department, new opportunities to participate in Mennonite Central Committee projects, and of course the development of Bridgefolk as a shared movement among Mennonites and Catholics, have all confirmed that to take Mennonite gifts and charisms into the Catholic communion is becoming thinkable and, for at least a few, a calling.

I understand myself, therefore, to be responding to that call. I continue to understand Bridgefolk, however, to be a gathering place for people who are being called to bridge the Anabaptist-Mennonite and Roman Catholic traditions in a variety of ways. I have often said in Bridgefolk circles, that in a broken and divided church there is no perfect way to embody links to both communities. Nor is there one right way to work for reconciliation. As Cardinal Walter Kasper has said, the proper goal of interchurch dialogue is not that we move closer to one another but rather that together we move closer to Jesus Christ.

I hope it is clear, then, that my own journey should not be seen as somehow normative for Bridgefolk. The one change that all this will mean for Bridgefolk is a change that should in fact confirm that Bridgefolk is a place for both “Catholic Mennonites” and “Mennonite Catholics.” Though I will continue to provide volunteer staff support as Bridgefolk Coordinator, the steering committee will soon be naming one of our Mennonite leaders for the role of co-chair. (Abbot John Klassen will continue as the Catholic co-chair.)

Looking from the outside this will no doubt seem to some to be a momentous decision; for me it feels like only a small move from “Catholic Mennonite” to “Mennonite Catholic.” Joetta is at peace and my sons have jokingly called me a Catholic for years. I would be insensitive if I thought that this news could come painlessly to all of my Mennonite friends and family. Yet for that reason I am especially grateful for the blessing of the deacons at Faith Mennonite Church, Minneapolis, who have agreed to my request to retain associate membership in the congregation.

As always, I am exceedingly grateful for your prayers, collaboration, and friendship. I look forward to seeing many of you soon at our coming conference at Saint John’s Abbey.

Grace and peace,

Gerald W. Schlabach
Bridgefolk Coordinator

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