They circled through St. Patrick's Cathedral - Lutheran and Roman Catholic clergy, women in white cassocks, men in black - along a left aisle, then the center, singing "Lift High the Cross."
The processional, showing both the new, basic cohesion and lingering external variations of the two traditions, opened a special service Sunday, marking the 25th anniversary of Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue."This truly is the day that the Lord has made," Cardinal John O'Connor, Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, told the mixed throng of about 2,000 worshipers.
Lutheran Bishop William Lazareth, head of the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, led the assembly in a joint confession of faith.
Lazareth said Catholics and Lutherans, whose 16th century founder Martin Luther led the Protestant break from Rome, have come "closer together in official doctrine, regardless of various patterns of ethical discipline."
Such diversity was evident in the contrasting makeup of about 200 clergy on hand, the Catholics all men, to which that church limits ordination, while Lutheran clergy included both women and men. But they all walked together on this occasion.
The Lutheran-Catholic talks, longest running of several Protestant-Catholic dialogues, began in 1965 near the close of the Second Vatican Council and its sweeping Roman Catholic reforms.
On once sharply dividing issues, including those that caused the 16th century split in Christianity, the talks have found broad areas of convergence and consensus.
Excerpts from several of these agreements were read at the St. Patrick's services, interspersed with prayers, hymns, psalms and an exchange among worshipers of "Peace be with you" and "Christ be with you."
One of the first agreements came shortly after the talks began, on the Nicene Creed, setting forth basic Christian beliefs and affirmed both by Catholics and Lutherans as well as by most major Protestant denominations.
Concurring statements came in 1970 on Holy Communion, or the eucharist, and on ministry, and in 1978 on church teaching authority, affirming that "Christ preserves the church in truth" and in which Lutherans recognize value in a modified papacy.
An accord in 1983 on justification by faith affirms that salvation comes only through faith in Christ's "free gift." Adding that faith results in good works, the statment adds: "Yet the justified cannot rely on their own good work . . . or merits as though they were not still in need of mercy."
A 1990 report on "One Mediator, the Saints and Mary," still to be released in full, says both Catholics and Lutherans "agree on the unique mediatorship of Christ," and see that as guiding views of the saints and Mary.