By Dan O’Mara, Communications Coordinator for the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church
The 2018 Fellowship of South Carolina Bishops’ Annual Prayer Service – “An Invitation to Prayer and Action in Support of Public Education” – will take place at 6 p.m. Jan. 23, 2018, at St Paul’s Lutheran Church in downtown Columbia.
The Fellowship of South Carolina Bishops is a special ecumenical relationship among churches led by bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal-Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal, Episcopal, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and United Methodist churches.
The bishops have been collectively advocating for public education since April 2014, when they issued a joint pastoral letter pledging “our commitment to support the full flourishing of public education in South Carolina.” They expressed concern when the state Supreme Court last month dismissed a landmark school equity lawsuit, which was filed 24 years ago to force the General Assembly to improve education opportunities in the state’s poorest public schools.
The bishops hope that this year’s prayer service acts as a call to action for all South Carolinians.
“Even though many Christians do not see eye to eye on all matters of belief, culture or politics, they understand that it is better to stand side by side – along with other religious leaders who work for peace and justice – than to do nothing or to exist in isolation,” said the Rev. Ira Houck, the canon associate for pastoral care at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Columbia.
“When we struggle to work together and achieve a public good, we are practicing the very thing our different faiths hold in common as a sacred, essential, expression of one’s love for God and neighbor.”
The Rev. Reggie Lee, a congregational specialist with the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, pointed out the Bible teaches that “faith without works is dead,” and John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed “there is no holiness except social holiness.”
“The bishops’ call to prayer and action is both biblical and necessary,” Rev. Lee said. “The church must be a prophetic catalyst for public education in South Carolina.
“The bishops are giving significant leadership in this effort, and I pray that clergy and laity will follow this clarion call for change.”
Ecumenism – efforts by Christians of different denominations to learn more about each other and to develop closer relationships – is at the heart of the Fellowship of South Carolina Bishops’ endeavors.
“We do not know how God will bring about the unity for which Jesus himself prayed, but our prayer expresses our desire for this unity and keeps us open to the conversion of heart that can lead to new possibilities,” said the Rev. Sandy McDonald, pastor of St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Columbia.
“The bishops of the Fellowship have grown to know and trust each other by their continuing dialogue, common action and prayer. Gathering together in prayer serves to build relationships among those who participate and, in turn, it serves to strengthen their commitment to ecumenical unity.”
It all starts with prayer.
“Prayer is a discipline of disciples of Jesus, so why would we not join hands and offer our prayers together?” said the Rev. Mary Finklea, Ecumenical Officer for the South Carolina Synod. “We have much to pray about, do we not?
“When you draw closer to the foot of the cross, you can’t help but draw closer to your fellow Christians also gathered there.”
Want to go?
What: 2018 Fellowship of South Carolina Bishops’ Annual Prayer Service
When: 6 p.m. Jan. 23, 2018
Where: St Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1715 Bull St., Columbia
Theme: An Invitation to Prayer and Action in Support of Public Education
Reception: Following the event