We are in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In the northern hemisphere, it begins on January 18, the Confession of Peter. And it ends on January 25, the Conversion of Paul. Churches in the global south use a different calendar. But really, any time is a good time to pray for Christian unity, and to proclaim the might acts of God. This year’s theme comes from 1 Peter 2:9—“Called to Proclaim the Mighty Acts of God.”
Fr. Thomas Orians, Associate Director of Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, writes:“The relationship between baptism and proclamation, and the calling shared by all the baptized to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord was inspired by two verses from the First Letter of St. Peter…. As Christians seeking the unity of the Body of Christ we are all called to recognize the mighty acts of God in our own lives and the life of the church.”
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was founded in 1908. It was soon after that, in 1910, the ecumenical movement began with a world missionary conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. Prior to that churches operated independently. Both the Week of Prayer and the missionary conference helped to promote the idea that Christians are stronger together than we are apart, and the things that separate us are less important than the things that unite us.
In the Montana Synod, many communities have ecumenical worship celebrations or pulpit exchanges to demonstrate Christian unity. But there is no reason that they have to be limited to this week. Many congregations do joint vacation bible school, joint youth groups, joint food programs, cooperative ministry for the homeless. We are truly more effective together than we are separately. And these joint activities are among the mighty acts of God that we are called to proclaim.
A lot has changed since 1908 when the Week of Prayer was founded. We, the ELCA, are a church that has formed as a result of a number of mergers of Lutheran Churches who felt that their common interests were more important than their differences. And we are in formal full communion agreements with 6 other denominations: the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, The Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Reformed Church in America, and the Moravians Northern Province. So do we need a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity?
I think we do. For one thing, it is a witness to those who are not Christian that we are more united than divided, that we do worship one God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, and that we follow the crucified living Christ. Many people judge Christianity only by the extremes that they say, and reject it as a violent and intolerant faith. We know better. And we can demonstrate it.
In addition, there are Christians across the globe who live in dangerous places where they are a persecuted minority. A Jewish friend regularly berates me for not doing more for Christians who are persecuted in the Middle East. A Week of Prayer for Christian Unity includes not just our neighbors down the street, but also our neighbors across the globe. When a Christian is executed by ISIS for being a Christian, it matters. As fellow baptized members of the Body of Christ, we hurt when other members are persecuted for their faith.
One of the ways you can be more involved with other Christians, learning their stories and hearing their proclamation is through the Wyoming Association of Churches or the Montana Association of Christians. Both organizations welcome your participation.
As Christians we stand together with other Christians because Jesus prayed that his followers would be one. And we proclaim the mighty acts of God.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA