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Lutherans, Catholics forget who’s who in rare ecumenical community

After being something of a vagabond, worshiping at four different congregations, Roman Catholic-raised Marcia Anderson of Aloha, Ore., wanted to “put down roots.” 

Beaverton, Ore., resident and fellow Roman Catholic Bill Parry, meanwhile, sought a welcoming church that kept children involved. He found one, and also a place where “they really make you think about things.”

As for Jon Erickson of Portland, Ore., a Lutheran whose youngest son is gay, he was looking for “something smaller, more spiritual and more overtly supportive of sexual minorities.”

Put all of that together, and add an atmosphere of acceptance, service, education and cooperation, and you get the reason Nick Cannard of Tigard, Ore., joined the other three in making Mission of the Atonement (MoTA) the physical home base of his faith: love.

“Of all the things Christ showed us, the greatest was love,” said Cannard, a former member of St. Anthony Roman Catholic Church in Tigard. “This church body espouses that. If it doesn’t fit ‘love,’ we don’t do it.”

MoTA, a couple miles west of the Portland city limits in Beaverton, is arguably one-of-a-kind. As its website proclaims in the masthead, it’s a “community of Roman Catholics and Lutherans” (www.motaspirit.org).

Nearly 500 years after the start of the Protestant Reformation, MoTA’s two denominations expand on their focus on love with an eight-point belief platform:
• What unites us as Christians and children of one God is greater than the theological differences that separate us.
• We are called by Christ to be on this journey together.
• We often learn the most by listening.
• We are called to attend to not just what Jesus died for, but what he lived for.
• Centuries of misunderstandings and violence can be best undone by sitting and praying and living and serving the world side by side.
• The best theologies emerge by the challenge of taking each other’s stories seriously.
• We haven’t read the Bible correctly if it doesn’t impel us to go out to love and serve our neighbor.
• Jesus invites both personal transformation and cultural transformation into God’s peaceable kingdom of nonviolence, inclusion, healing and wholeness.

“We have more than 100 families, maybe 250 members,” said Laurie Larson Caesar, theELCA pastor of MoTA. “We are probably two-thirds Catholic, though denominational differences aren’t what first come to people’s minds. People love to say that they forget who’s Catholic and who’s Lutheran. We even had a Catholic member preach on Reformation Sunday some years back, and she talked about how she was catechized to see Martin Luther as a heretic, and how through these Lutherans in her life, she’s come to see Christ more clearly than she ever had before.”

Brought together by money woes

MoTA got its start in 1960 as Atonement Lutheran Church. Twenty-five years later, declining membership and dwindling financial resources left it with two options: close or share the building with another congregation.


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