This January, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (WPCU) turns 106 years old. Every year Christians gather to pray together across denominational boundaries–and every year a different country produces resources to be used around the world.
“Its preparation is very inclusive,” says the Ven. Bruce Myers, General Synod’s coordinator for ecumenical relations. “It tries to offer a glimpse not just of the diversity of the church, but also the diversity of humanity. As it turns out, 2014 is Canada’s turn to prepare the materials.”
The Canadian writing team was drawn from several denominations and from all over the country. The Rev. Canon Dr. John Gibaut–an Anglican priest of the diocese of Ottawa–was the WCC’s lead staff person guiding production of the resources.
One member of the writing team was the Rev. Sandra Beardsall, professor of church history and ecumenics at St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon. “We weren’t primarily selected for our denomination–although the WPCU committee wanted to make sure that there was a variety,” says Beardsall. “It was mainly that we represented people from across the country.”
In fact, the biggest challenge for the 2014 team, according to Beardsall, was making sure the materials they produced were an accurate and inclusive reflection of Canada as a whole.
“We were honest about our context, and we tried to relate that context to the theme,” says Beardsall. “We recognize both the joys and the challenges of diversity. We recognise the challenges of power and hegemony, how First Nations have been impacted by and have contributed to Christian culture in Canada. I think people will get a real flavour of a diverse ecumenical culture where there’s a long history of working together–even though there are still things unresolved.”
A different theme is chosen for the Week of Prayer from scripture each year. This year’s theme is from 1 Corinthians 1:13: “Has Christ been divided?”
“This one bubbled to the surface because we thought it was provocative,” says Beardsall. “It doesn’t just assume a happy ‘we’re all in this together’ attitude. It challenges us to ask ourselves how we’re contributing to the unity (or the division) of the church. We liked the little bit of edge that came with it.”
The new 2014 materials include a main worship service–with the entire liturgy (apart from a sermon or homily) and materials that explain the service; a context document with reflection on the “host” country and the theme; and eight days of mini-services/studies with scriptural texts and questions for each day.
Also included are a set of hymns specially written for the week by Canadians.
Churches will often arrange other WPCU activities such as lectures or public witness events. The week’s main focus, however, is common prayer for the visible unity of the church.
“It’s a very easy and important way to participate in the ecumenical movement,” says Myers. “Sometimes it’s undervalued. ‘Well we’re just getting together to pray.’ That in itself is a really important ecumenical witness. In a sense it’s radical because there was a time when some of our churches forbade worshipping with Christians of other traditions.”
“If you believe that prayer is powerful and efficacious, and is a way of discerning and living out God’s will, then we should pray together as Christians.”
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