Catholics demonstrate Christian unity in offering ministries to Lutheran congregation

Three lifelong Catholics — Lisa Barton, Kaye Schmnich and Terry Elliot — are employed at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in St. Cloud, which gives them a unique ecumenical perspective as Catholics observe the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Jan. 18-25 (see box). By sharing their talents with this Lutheran congregation, they personify ecumenical harmony in the community.

A parishioner at St. Joseph in St. Joseph, Lisa Barton has worked for more than four years as Bethlehem’s administrative support specialist. Among other tasks, she answers the phone — often the first voice a caller will hear.

“I learned that if you can’t find kindness in the world, you should be that kindness and treat people with respect. It’s what I think when I answer Bethlehem’s phone and connect with people who are sick or dealing with death. During those high emotional times, I understand where they are coming from and can simply listen to them.”

Like her mother who had been the parish secretary for St. Joseph Parish in St. Joseph, for more than 25 years, Lisa brings a strong service orientation and her knowledge of liturgy to the Bethlehem staff and congregation. Before her position at Bethlehem, Lisa had worked in the church office at St. Joseph in Waite Park, a job she enjoyed.

Besides answering the phone, she also schedules the building for a variety of uses, produces print bulletins for in-person worship services and creates slides for projection and online services. During the early months of the pandemic, she became responsible for more parts of the online worship services, including the weekly readings.

“At St. Joe on Sundays, I can sit in the pew and relax. I can absorb the readings and the sermon instead of having to figure out how to project the readings on the screen, which are the same in both congregations. During the lockdown, our family watched Bethlehem’s online service — they were ahead of the curve on technology so we participated and had a good experience.”

In music ministry

Terry Elliott and Kaye Schimnich are musicians in ministry at Bethlehem where they find commonalities between the two churches.

Terry is a former music teacher who retired last June from All Saints, part of Catholic Community Schools, where he helped students prepare weekly liturgies and Masses. Since 2013, he’s been Bethlehem’s contemporary worship coordinator, leading eight singers and instrumentalists at two services.

“When I was the worship director for St. Joseph Parish in Waite Park, our two churches shared Pentecost celebrations 25 years ago. Twice I’ve sat on their committees to hire musicians. Once I met with Bethlehem’s clergy to plan a youth service for Ash Wednesday, and they asked how my school and church had approached it.”

Kaye Schmnich, left, and Terry Elliot. (photo by Dianne Towalski / The Central Minnesota Catholic)

Kaye Schimnich is the organist who accompanies the congregation and the adult choir at Bethlehem’s traditional Sunday service. For the past year she’s also coordinated the service. She played organ at the St. Cloud Hospital’s weekday Masses — until the pandemic changed the hospital’s policies — and substitutes at Catholic parishes in the St. Cloud area.

“In February I’ll have been at Bethlehem 17 years,” she said. “Before I started, I already played organ at a Catholic church and wasn’t looking to change, but as I was walking along the Mississippi River, I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me to find out more.”

Kaye, who majored in liturgical music at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, said, “The Holy Spirit works through the music, through my hands and heart, to touch people where they are in their own faith journeys. My own faith has been strengthened as my perspective has broadened. Many hymns cross denominational boundaries. Marty Haugen is a more contemporary composer who isn’t Catholic, yet much of his music is sung in both churches.

“When I started working there,” she said, “Pastor Dee Pederson (now Bishop Dee Pederson) gave me liturgy resources they were using, and I was struck by how similar we are in core beliefs, which I focus on. There aren’t as many pauses and silences, and I miss regularly singing the Psalms,” Kaye said.

“The differences were refreshing,” Terry said. “Maybe that’s because, with my long relationship at Bethlehem, it wasn’t completely new. I appreciate the cooperation and fellowship among the music staff. And I like that they’re learning new contemporary music. I hope the feeling of welcome and community, the sense of ensemble and working together experienced by musicians, could be experienced by all people of faith.”

Hope for Christian unity

As these three share their gifts, they demonstrate how Christians might embrace the Gospel message of inclusiveness.

Lisa said, “This church is very welcoming. It makes me aware of how we should be.”

“Bethlehem’s large clear windows reflect the warmth and openness of the congregation,” Kaye said. “They remind us that, although we are ‘here in church,’ we’re also a part of and ‘are church’ for the world ‘out there.’ In these days of deep divides, could we lead the way in acknowledging what we have in common? What if we focused on what we all have to offer each other, emphasizing inclusion rather than exclusion? How can each of us bring light and healing? How can we be “Christ’s hands in the world?

Learn more:

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an annual international observance, is Jan. 18-25 . The reflections, drawn from different cultures, races and languages each year, explore how Christians are called to bring unity and a common desire to worship God. This year’s theme focuses on the Magi, who worshiped Jesus though they came from diverse traditions. For more information, visit

Author: Nikki Rajala

Nikki Rajala is a writer/copy editor for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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