June 4, 2024 // Diocese

Catholics, Protestants Worship Together at Unity Night

During his final night on earth, Jesus spent time praying with His disciples for unity among all believers. As John 17 reads: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”

Photos by Eric Peat
There was standing room only at Unity Night, as members of Sonrise Church and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish joined to worship Jesus.

On Thursday, May 30, two church communities in southwest Fort Wayne offered a glimpse of what the fulfillment of this idyllic vision might look like. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish joined up with Sonrise Church for Unity Night, hosted by Sonrise. The night of prayer and worship connecting Catholics and Protestants was led by Shema Culture, a music ministry based in Fort Wayne, and emceed by Pastor Caleb Stayton of Sonrise and Father Jake Schneider of St. Elizabeth. Father Schneider said both communities had been invoking the Holy Spirit for several months as they planned the event.

Pastor Caleb of Sonrise, left and Father Jake Schneider welcomes attendees to Sonrise Church for Unity Night.

“It’s giving a place for the Spirit to work in the hearts of believers to acknowledge the greater Body of Christ,” Father Schneider told Today’s Catholic. “Being able to pray together will tear down some walls of hostility that many naturally have for the other community and also bring a sense of having the same end goal: unity with Christ and reaching heaven one day. Hopefully, that will be expressed through our prayer and knowledge that we’re working together, not against each other.”

Pastor Caleb of Sonrise expressed similar sentiments in his opening remarks to those gathered. “What’s unique about tonight is that when we get to come together and worship the Lord, we’re gathering two congregations with two different backgrounds,” Pastor Caleb said. “And though we might not normally worship together, we’re putting aside the differences to come together on the thing that we are certain of: that Jesus Christ is alive, He is the reigning King of Kings, He’s the Lord of Lords, and He’s deserving of the highest praise. And so, we’re putting ourselves aside to lift Jesus higher, amen?”

Lead Pastor Fred Stayton addresses those gathered at Unity Night.

He then invited Lead Pastor Fred Stayton to share some comments. “Many times, I’ll say to our congregation, ‘In this City of Churches, how many churches are there in Fort Wayne?’” said Pastor Fred, to which the congregation responded “One!” in unison. “Yeah,” Pastor Fred agreed, “I’m beginning to believe that a little bit more tonight.” Acknowledging the unique nature of the night, Pastor Fred challenged those in attendance to “embrace the awkward” and not simply be a “watcher of worship” but to participate. “God, we pray tonight that we could be unified under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, that we could lift Him high, that we could praise His name, that we could see the holiness of God and declare the holiness of God in this place,” prayed Pastor Fred. “Enter into this room; may you be welcome by our worship.”

Shema Culture led those gathered in song throughout the night.

For the next 20 minutes, the entire auditorium swelled in song, with Shema Culture’s passionate praise echoed by the congregation. After a handful of worship songs, two witnesses – one Catholic, one Protestant – shared their own spiritual journeys, describing how they grew in relationship with Jesus and ultimately with each other. They stressed that holy friendships are based on the love of Jesus and embrace each other’s identities as brothers and sisters in Christ.

As the worship music resumed, prayer teams formed in the adjacent room to pray over any individuals in need of healing. The evening concluded as Father Terry Coonan, Pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, led those gathered in prayer. “God our Father, thank you for this evening, for the unity that you are stirring up in our hearts,” Father Coonan prayed. “We pray that you may strengthen us by the graces of the Holy Spirit to be an instrument of unity for others, that we may foster communion, that we may draw others closer to you, and that we may allow your peace to dwell in our hearts.” He closed with the Aaronic blessing that God spoke to Moses, as he invited a renewal of baptismal graces upon all gathered.

Afterwards, the two communities mingled together for some time, each invigorated by the beautiful display of harmony. Cole Frazier, a member of Sonrise Church, said he was blown away by the turnout.

“I honestly was super shocked at how many people showed up,” Frazier told Today’s Catholic. “I thought it was super cool to fill this whole room – it’s a pretty big room, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen it that full. At the very start, when the first song started playing and all the voices came in, I was just in awe of how awesome it is, kind of angelic. It was amazing. I loved it.”

Retta Kohrman, a parishioner at St. Charles Borromeo in Fort Wayne, also recognized the significance of the night. “It’s important today with all the division that’s out there,” Kohrman said. “I see the love of God and the full manifestation in his people who love one another. We can’t love one another when we’re divided. Love is not divided; love multiplies.”

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.