TUESDAY, JANUARY 18: Christians join the movement toward religious unity today, as they begin the 8-day Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This week, followers of Christ will look past their denominational divides. (Churches in the Southern Hemisphere usually celebrate the Week of Prayer around Pentecost.)
Some congregations will welcome a preacher from another church; others will work with their ecumenical partners to prepare a biblical text for the week. (Documents and more information is at the World Council of Churches site.) For 2011, churches in Jerusalem came up with a theme centered around the early Church: This year, Christians will examine the theme from Acts 2:42: “One in the Apostles’ Teaching, Fellowship, Breaking of Bread and Prayer.” (Get educated on the theme with help from the National Council of Churches.)
Religious unity may be a hot topic right now, but Father Paul Wattson was ahead of his time when he developed the Church Unity Octave—a forerunner of the Week for Christian Unity—in the first decade of the 20th century. The first Church Unity Octave was observed in 1908 and, according to Wattson’s vision, the week centered around St. Peter when it began on the Protestant Feast of the Confession of Peter and ended on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Peter. (The week is still observed this way today. Wikipedia has details.) After Fr. Wattson proposed a name change for the week in 1935 and the World Council of Churches was founded in 1948, the popularity of his idea grew. In 1966, a common international text was written. Churches continue to use central ideas from 1966 as inspiration for their services today.
This year, Jerusalem church leaders explain their choice as a “call for inspiration and renewal … to remember the time when the church was still one.” (Pope Benedict XVI recently commented on the idea of unity and this imortant week. Check out the Catholic News Agency for more on his speech.) According to National Council of Churches General Secretary Michael Kinnamon, “Since unity is ultimately a gift of God … prayer for unity is at the heart of the ecumenical movement.”