Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.
(New Revised Standard Version)
Many people feel that the year 2000 is special, not just one more year like any other. Christians proclaim that it has a particular importance because of a unique moment which has given the rest of human history its true significance. In wonder and praise we are contemplating the mystery of the incarnation, the coming in human flesh like our of our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We Christians are celebrating this year of grace together in many ways, according to our different traditions. Some see it as a jubilee year when debts should be remitted, a time also for pilgrimage and other signs of repentance and renewal.
The gospel has been brought to the ends of the earth but sometimes in conflicting and contrasting versions. Two millennia of Christian history have seen deep and long-lasting differences among Christ's followers. On the other hand, the search for unity among Christians has marked the last century and the ecumenical commitment of the church has begun to bear fruit. We no longer see each other as enemies or strangers, but as brothers and sisters in Christ.
During this year we should pray especially fervently for Christian unity. The accompanying materials, revised from a draft text prepared by representatives of the Middle East Council of Churches, are intended to help us do this. Conscious of coming from the region in which Christ was born and ministered, they chose to base their text on the hymn which introduces the Letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 1:3-14). This hymn speaks of God's wonderful plan of salvation centred on Jesus Christ. All Christians partake of these blessings. Sharing so much is a challenge to resolve what still keeps us apart.
The Ephesians hymn encourages us to reflect on the very heart of our faith, on all that we have in common notwithstanding our divisions. We have been complacent about our divisions, even proud of them. Even after rediscovering how much we have in common we have been reluctant to recognize the implications and do together all that can be done together. Yet, we look to the future in hope. The Holy Spirit who has sealed us all in our baptism is at work among us and will help to bring God's glorious plan to fulfilment. We have experienced the forgiveness of sin and once again dare to pray that God's will may be done.
As we look back over 2000 years of Christian history, we find ourselves rejoicing at God's gifts of grace but also repenting that the response has so often been marked by weakness and sin. We look forward in hope too, that in the new millennium we may be more open to the Spirit and more faithful to Christ so that all people may come to know and praise God's holy name. We hope for a third millennium in which Christian divisions are overcome and the gospel of truth is more faithfully lived and preached together.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is celebrated around the world. Christians unite in prayer and study on a common Biblical theme, upholding that what unites us is greater than that which divides us. While the work toward Christian unity is something that takes place throughout the year, this particular Week focusses our attention in a particular way on the achievements and challenges, the call and the vision, of Christian unity.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is about...
breaking down barriers
nurturing ecumenical relationships
"The PLURA group in my community held a service in one representative church each day of the week. The most rewarding thing I found was the number of people in my office who participated. One of my co-workers walked around on Monday and asked people if they were interested in attending. We set up a car pool and went from there. What a great thing it is when people share their faith together and offer prayer for the resolution of overwhelming difficulties. I think that's what the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is all about: people working together to resolve apparently overwhelming difficulties in theology." -Kamloops, BC
The call to Christian unity challenges us to break down the barriers that we construct between each other. Think about the various barriers in your community that prevent Christians from gathering together in trust and mutual care. Do Evangelical and Ecumenical ministerials meet separately? Do race, ethnicity, and class divide churches? Sometimes the risk of simply gathering together in prayer can be the beginning of a reconciling relationship.
"The WPCU has served to strengthen our ministerial association. For me, the importance of the ministerial association is not so much what we do, but what we are for each other. We have gone beyond doing ecumenical things to being ecumenical people. We have taken the time to develop real relationships with each other, that allow us to address difficult issues in a climate of respect. We can be ourselves at our meetings. We meet at lunch, in an informal way, and go where the Spirit leads us. Sometimes we talk about our lives. There is much laughter. In hard times there is mutual support. We find that the experience of pastoral ministry binds us together, and other members of the ministerial understand immediately the joys and frustrations of the work in a way that others do not. We have learned much from each other, and we will learn more. Already we know that we love the same God, follow the same Jesus, and the same Spirit fires our hearts." -Edmonton, AB
"Our ministry has developed a monthly prayer service for youth and their families. I was thrilled to be able to incorporate a good portion of the WPCU materials into our January prayer service." -Toronto, ON
"We always have a week of lunch hour services during the WPCU. One of the churches in our community acts as the host church and then clergy from the other churches speak at each service. The church whose pastor is that day's speaker is responsible for putting on the lunch. A freewill offering is taken which goes to the local ministerial. These funds are used throughout the year to help the Salvation Army, an inter-denominational teen drop-in centre, and other local charities." -Wallaceburg, ON
This kit contains a worship service that may be used in ecumenical settings or by individual congregations for regular Sunday worship during the Week of Prayer. Other communities plan a special ecumenical gathering. The Daily Biblical Reflections included here offer a thematic focus for prayer and study during the week, either for groups which meet daily, or for personal prayer.
"In Prince Albert, there were daily services over the noon hour at various churches throughout the city led by the ministers of each church. Last year we introduced Bible studies, held in the early morning during the week. -Prince Albert, SK
Christians share a common passion for the Scriptures. Ecumenical Bible studies are a way to share in depth our common heritage and hope, while exploring the differences between our traditions. Congregations might wish to arrange to visit neighbouring churches for worship. Many occasions will present themselves in the year 2000 for learning events, as Christians reflect on the meaning of what is celebrated in this anniversary year. Be sure to provide opportunities for such events to be ecumenical in nature.
"Here in Valleyview in northern Alberta we observe the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with a joint service each year. The majority of our ministerial associations are of the Evangelical traditions, so we usually adapt the ecumenical worship service, simplifying some of the liturgical elements, asking one of the Evangelical pastors to lead in intercessory prayer." -Valleyview, AB
Gather to celebrate what is drawing your churches together, and do so in ways that make sense for your local community, honouring the languages, customs and traditions present. Take time to reflect on the signs of God's new creation at work in the life of your community. Identify groups and individuals working for justice, reconciliation and the alleviation of suffering, sickness and estrangement. What are the signs of Christian unity in your community? In this year that marks a special anniversary of God's reconciling work in Jesus Christ, think of ways in which you might celebrate this special time together.
In Canada, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is celebrated from the Sunday prior to the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul to the following Sunday - in 2000, January 23-30. In some communities, the unpredictability of winter weather makes it difficult to arrange celebrations at this time. Plan your local celebrations in keeping with the needs of your communit. The Christian calendar provides other occasions to pray together for unity: Pentecost, Holy Week, World Day of Prayer (March 3), All Saints, and, in some churches, World Communion Day (Oct. 1).
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is one of the oldest and most widely-observed ecumenical events in the world. Its roots can be traced back to the 1800s. Since 1965, resources for the Week of Prayer have been prepared by a joint committee of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity and the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. This committee chooses the theme and biblical text that serves as the focus for celebrations around the world that year. A local planning group in the Middle East prepared the worship service being used internationally. An ecumenical committee of the Canadian Council of Churches adapts these materials to provide resources for the Canadian churches.