LONGMONT — The worship service had all the hallmarks of a Catholic Mass.
There were bread and wine that, through the Consecration, would become the literal blood and body of Jesus Christ.
There was the Sign of Peace, Holy Communion and an utterance of the Nicene Creed, in which parishioners prayed in unison: “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.”
And there was the color red, symbolizing Pentecost, the feast that marks the Holy Spirit’s descent upon the Apostles 50 days after the Resurrection.
But it was not a Roman Catholic Mass, nor did the attending priests and parishioners of the Longmont Ecumenical Catholic Community intend it to be, they say.
“Some might say we are trying to pass ourselves off as Roman Catholic. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said the Rev. Scott Jenkins, a pastor at Church of the Holy Family in Aurora and the celebrating priest at the inaugural Mass of the Longmont Ecumenical Catholic Community, held May 14 at the Longmont Senior Center.
The Longmont Ecumenical Catholic Community, or ECC, upholds certain Catholic traditions, such as the teachings and person of Jesus Christ, the New Testament and the sacramental and liturgical rituals.
But there are some ECC principles that seem untraditional when coupled with Catholicism: allowing women to be ordained; allowing priests, men and women, to marry; opening the Eucharist and other sacraments to all those baptized, not just Catholics; and engaging in prayerful discernment with individuals in regard to divorce and remarriage, family planning and birth control, and same-sex relationships.
Jenkins called the first Mass “a birthing process,” full of fear, hope, grief, joy and excitement.
“In our bones, we are Catholic,” Jenkins said. “And if we are Catholic Christians and Christians follow Jesus ... Jesus was not an exclusive leader. He included everyone. Everybody has a chance to come to the Kingdom of God.”
The word catholic itself means “universal.” So does “ecumenical.” In fact, there are five ECC churches in Colorado, and four other towns are thinking about it, Jenkins said.
However, ecumenical Catholics are a different breed from their Roman Catholic siblings.
So much so that one local Roman Catholic church included a letter, which was given to the Daily Times-Call, in its May 14 bulletin warning parishioners that “should any Roman Catholic engage in such an alternative parish ... they run the risk, by their own actions to incur” what is essentially an automatic excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church.
Those who spoke with the Daily Times-Call said they understood such risks in attending the ECC’s first Mass.
“I know the potential backlash is there. So be it,” said Scharleen Funk of Longmont, a textiles technician who was one of more than 200 in attendance from Denver, Aurora and the Longmont area at the May 14 service.
“It was another piece of something that helped to confirm in my own mind that I am not the only one feeling this way,” she said.
Like Joseph Toscano of Lyons, a counselor who was raised Roman Catholic but said he was “burned out on the formality of church as a young man.”
Toscano said he spent the next two decades becoming “well-traveled religiously” by visiting other churches and denominations searching for a spiritual home. He found the Spirit of Peace Catholic Community, a Roman Catholic church in Longmont.
But, Toscano said, “My allegiance has never been to Rome, per se. My allegiance is to Christ, and I believe they are different,” he said.
That’s what attracted him to the ecumenical denomination, which he said was “not a haven for the divorced” looking to sidestep the rules of Catholic rituals.
Ecumenical Catholics say they don’t want to reform the Roman Catholic Church but prefer to worship under a more spiritually free denomination with Catholic roots.
“We want to hold onto Catholic traditions,” Toscano said. “We are not a hybrid church or a diluted version of the Catholic Church. We are very Catholic.”
Those who spoke with the Times-Call said they did not want to join another Christian denomination because of their spiritual connections to Catholicism, just not the Roman variety.
ECC practices the original understanding of the church that existed for the first 800 years of Christianity, say its leaders.
“We think that being Catholic has to do with its way of believing in God through Jesus in the world,” Jenkins said. “It is not primarily about rules and regulations. It’s more about spirituality and sacraments.”
Jenkins said he is a man of faith whose faith was tested — and lost.
Not raised in a family of faith, Jenkins said he was called to the ministry and served as a Lutheran pastor for 10 years.
When one of his five daughters nearly died of cancer, Jenkins said he was so angry at God that he quit his vocation, something of which he is not proud.
Two years later, a friend suggested to Jenkins he try an ecumenical church, which encouraged unity and diversity — two traits he hopes to instill in the young congregation in Longmont.
Those two principles, unity and diversity, drew Steve DePlato of Longmont and Margaret Skrobacz of Berthoud to last weekend’s service.
Said DePlato, a towing company dispatcher who was raised Roman Catholic, as was his wife: “In practicing the Roman Catholic faith, we felt as though people who were hurting weren’t allowed to come to the source of healing, to the Lord’s table. Well, they certainly could come, but they couldn’t go away feeling fully welcomed.”
Skrobacz, a part-time speech therapist, said that finding a spiritual home was vital, and she referred to what she calls “the wonderful tragedy ... the division in my old church community that has led me to this new place.”
Attending an ecumenical service, a church with core values much different from what this cradle Catholic had embraced for 43 years, is a process, Skrobacz said.
“It’s different, very different. But different is not bad, and it’s not wrong,” she said. “It affirmed to me that I did not have to worry about these worldly things, like where am I going to go for church?
“This allows me to worship, be Catholic and embrace my spiritual uniqueness.”
The Longmont Ecumenical Catholic Community meets at 5 p.m. Saturdays at the Longmont Senior Center, 910 Longs Peak Avenue. For more information, call 303-699-5200.
Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-684-5274, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.