The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a time for Christians all over the world to pray for the unity of the church.

This week first came about because of a conversation between Father James Paul Wattson, an American Episcopalian Priest (who later converted to Roman Catholicism) and an English clergyman, Rev Spencer Jones.   While Father Wattson had been working with Sister Lurana White, an Episcopalian nun who also later converted to Catholicism to foster a movement to pray for the reunion of the Anglican Communion with the Roman Catholic Church, Rev. Spencer suggested they expand the idea to encourage all Christians to pray for Christian Unity.  They chose the week between the Confession of St. Peter on January 18 and Conversion of St. Paul, January 25.

Later, Abbé Paul Couturier of Lyons, France (known as the father of spiritual ecumenism) sought to make this week more inclusive of other denominations.  He encouraged this week of prayer so that “Our Lord would grant to his Church on earth that peace and unity which were in his mind and purpose when, on the eve of His Passion, He prayed that all might be one.”

With the founding of the World Council of Churches, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity became recognized by even more churches around the world.  In 1968 the World Council of Churches began to work with ecumenical partners to produce resources that could be shared by all participating churches.

Each year ecumenical partners in a particular region are invited to produce a basic liturgical text based on a biblical theme.  This year the resources have been prepared by churches of the Caribbean under the theme of “Your Right Hand, O Lord, Glorious in Power­­” based on Exodus 15:6.

From the World Council of Churches:

The contemporary Caribbean is deeply marked by the dehumanizing project of colonial exploitation. Very regrettably, during five hundred years of colonialism and enslavement, Christian missionary activity in the region, with the exception of a few outstanding examples, was closely tied to this dehumanizing system and in many ways rationalized it and reinforced it. Whereas those who brought the Bible to this region used the scriptures to justify their subjugation of a people in bondage, in the hands of the enslaved, it became an inspiration, an assurance that God was on their side, and that God would lead them into freedom.

Today Caribbean Christians of many different traditions see the hand of God active in the ending of enslavement. It is a uniting experience of the saving action of God which brings freedom. For this reason, the choice of the song of Moses and Miriam (Ex 15:1-21), as the motif of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2018 was considered a most appropriate one.

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About The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson

The Rev. Dr. Joelle Colville-Hanson has been Director for Evangelical Mission, ELCA for the Northeastern Iowa Synod since late 2013. Part of her job description is to help leaders and congregations use social media and other digital means for outreach and mission. She writes and edits this blog as well as runs the social media accounts for the synod.

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