Amid news of denominational schism, particularly in the United States, Christians worldwide will unite Wednesday to observe the beginning of an international ecumenical event.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which will run from Jan. 18 to 25, is an annual observance where Christians from numerous denominations worship together in the hopes of uniting in prayer despite differences between traditions.
The Rev. Carlos L. Malavé, associate for ecumenical relations for the Office of the General Assembly of Presbyterian Church (USA), said that his denomination “supports and actively promotes the celebration.”
“The activity is included in the activities calendar of our denomination,” said Malavé.
“Churches are encouraged to join other Christian churches in their community to pray, including joining in mutual mission projects that reflect the unity for which we pray.”
Fr. Rev. John W. Crossin, OSFS, said that the Roman Catholic Church is also very active in the observance of the week.
“The Roman Catholic Church is very involved in the Washington, D.C., area and in many other places,” said Crossin.
“There are several services throughout our region. Catholic parishes and Protestant congregations co-sponsor some observances. Dioceses and Judicatories collaborate with one another.”
Even as many churches celebrate this week-long occasion, American churches continue to endure tensions within many denominations, prompting divisions and legal battles.
In The Episcopal Church, dioceses have been fighting in over a hundred legal cases against departing congregations seeking to keep their property.
In the Presbyterian Church (USA), several churches have left either to join pre-existing conservative alternatives or to join a “New Reformed Body” being proposed by the Fellowship of Presbyterians.
It is almost ironic that the first day of the time meant to honor Christian unity comes the same day as the “Orlando Covenanting Conference,” the Fellowship of Presbyterian’s major gathering that will likely result in several congregations officially breaking away from PC(USA).
“As Presbyterian Christians we are called to model a different kind of community to the world; the truth is that often we fail,” said the Rev. Malavé.
“The unity we seek and work for is not based on human hopes, strength, or strategy. The unity is based on Christ’s promise that, ‘the gates of Hades will not prevail against it’ (Mt. 16:18).”
Originally called the “The Church Unity Octave,” the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was created in 1908 by Father Paul Wattson of the Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute, a group overseen by the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement.
Its placement on the calendar varies depending on which hemisphere a church is found. In the northern hemisphere, the week falls in the time between the feast days of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. In the southern hemisphere, it falls during Pentecost.