Surprised by Ecumenism
– by Joel Laton
I’m a Southern Baptist and work on staff for a majority-Catholic community in Jacksonville, Florida called Spirit of Christ. About three years ago, I married a young Catholic woman. And two years ago, I began studying at a prominent evangelical seminary. But I haven’t always been this confused!
I grew up in a conservative Baptist environment. At 16, the Lord opened my heart to conversion at a Christian concert. Oh, happy day! Having a relationship with Jesus bore immediate fruit in my life: I began reading the Bible every day, making positive changes in my relationships, and serving in my church.
Less than a year later, my discipleship ventured down an unexpected path-at least by Baptist standards. I was invited to an informal Life in the Spirit course with a few friends from school who were Catholic. Being prayed over to be filled with the Spirit was revolutionary for us. We’d never experienced God’s presence like this before. We became very close, worshipping together, practicing the gifts of the Spirit, even starting a small prayer meeting in our high school. Looking back, these early experiences sowed the value of ecumenical, charismatic community deep into my heart.
I was introduced to the Sword of the Spirit as a freshman in college, attending a few UCO conferences over the next couple of years. When I graduated and moved back to Jacksonville the Lord gave me a clear calling to community life, along with a few of those friends. Now, I’ve been a member of the Spirit of Christ community for nearly 10 years. My life has been enriched-and my heart and mind stretched-by my Catholic brothers and sisters.
I met my wife in the community. We’ve had to sort through the complications of an ecumenical marriage together, and our approach is still evolving. But I treasure her witness to me. Her Catholic faith is alive, and the Spirit’s activity is pronounced in her life.
During my time at seminary, I’ve gotten a deeper understanding of our church’s theological differences, which remain real and significant. There has been ecumenical progress in Christ’s body, but a spirit of division lingers. Still, I haven’t lost my heart for ecumenism. I won’t soon forget how the Spirit has moved in so many of my Catholic friends. And I firmly believe that the Lord is raising up the SOS for such a time as this.
Joel Laton is a member of the Spirit of Christ Community in Jacksonville FL, USA. Taken from the Sword of the Spirit’s Booklet for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2019. Used with permission.