Monday, January 19, 2009
January 18th was the first day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It begins on the Feast of the Confession of St Peter, and ends next week on the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul. This event was begun by the Episcopal Franciscan monks at Graymoor, New York in 1906 and has been a regular part of the wider Christian Calendar ever since, and is sponsored by the World Council of Churches.
It didn’t get much attention this year. There are probably too many other distractions both in Church and State right now. Also, ecumenical efforts, especially those organized in a top down manner from church leadership, don’t seem to generate much interest these days. There seems to be a fair amount of cooperation on a local level among various religious groups, but the days of big conferences on a national and world-wide basis seem to have passed. (I should note however that Phoenix will be hosting such a national gathering this coming April and the Diocese will be helping). Christian denominations, the Episcopal Church being a good example, have a hard enough time getting along with their own fellow members, let along with other churches! There is also the broader phenomenon of Americans disregarding the theological distinctions of their own churches as reported this past week by Barna Institute on religion (http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0114/p02s02-usgn.html). American Christians seem to pick and choose what teachings or practices appeal to them from a wide range of traditions. Denominationalism itself seems to be dead, with Americans selecting their church not because of their loyalty to a childhood denominations, but because a local congregation (they don’t care much which) provides the kind of services they are looking for. The culture wars have also played a role. In recent years we have noticed such diverse groups as Roman Catholics and Mormons supporting “traditional marriage”, while Pentecostals and Episcopalians unite for border reform.
So in one sense we may be evolving towards a greater sense of unity, or is it interchangeability?
Still, we still need plenty of prayers, although I suspect that the challenges of the future will have more to do with interfaith than with interchurch relationships, especially with Islam.
You can find out more about the Week of Prayer at their website: www.oikouneme.org.