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Spirit of unity carries group to Europe

Published Oct. 6, 2005

On a recent trip to Europe, the Rev. Sue Gamelin met a number of world religious leaders. Two stand out in her mind.

Both warmly received Gamelin and the group she accompanied, she said, but their situations were far from similar.

One was Pope John Paul II, head of the Roman Catholic Church, who usually is revered and treated with great respect wherever he goes.

The other was Bartholomeos I, spiritual leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which has its headquarters in Istanbul, where the government places many restrictions on him and the 3,700 Orthodox followers in that area.

Gamelin hopes the trip, and the work being done by the group, will help oppressed worshipers attain the freedom and acceptance already enjoyed by others.

She was one of 12 representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who traveled to London, Geneva, Rome and Istanbul to meet with religious leaders of Lutheran, Anglican, Orthodox, Roman and Catholic traditions.

The purpose of the trip was to discuss efforts toward unity between Lutherans in the ELCA and the Episcopal Church, and to improve relations of the ELCA with the Roman Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ.

Gamelin and her husband, Timothy, have been co-pastors of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Clearwater since September. Previously, she served as assistant to Bishop Lavern Branzen of the Florida-Bahama Synod. That led to her being named a couple of years ago to a national coordinating committee for Lutheran Episcopal relations, and ultimately to the 2{-week trip.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Gamelin. "We saw places most people don't see."

She had little free time for sightseeing, but Gamelin said she found the meetings with religious leaders fascinating.

Most interesting, although tragic, is the oppression of the Orthodox worshipers in Istanbul, she said. There, clergy may face arrest if they wear traditional clerical clothing in public. Churches are built to look small and insignificant to fit in with other nearby buildings.

The only Orthodox seminary in Turkey has been closed since 1972, by government order, she said. In September, when an angry mob surrounded Bartholomeos' headquarters, threatening to kill him, the police were called.

"Police did respond, but it took them five days to arrive," said Gamelin.

Through the ecumenical movement, "a lot of people are working hard" to try to rectify such situations, Gamelin said.

Locally, leaders and members of ELCA Lutheran and Episcopal churches will work more closely, even interchanging clergy and sharing Communion, Gamelin said.

She plans to speak to local groups, explaining her trip and its purpose. "The congregation was so supportive of me, and supportive of my involvement in a committee that carries me to different places several times a year.

"This congregation has a history of involvement in ecumenical ventures. It was a founder and strong supporter of Religious Community Services" _ an umbrella organization of local congregations providing programs to help those in need.

"I think this is something the congregation will not hesitate to move toward."