What are you doing for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity?

the embrace of the apostles Peter and PaulEvery year from 18th to 25th January the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity together invite us all to pray for the unity of all Christians. This ancient octave of Peter and Paul – running from the historical feast of the Chair of St. Peter (18 Jan), called the Confession of St. Peter in the Anglican tradition, to the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (25 Jan) – is now called “The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity”. This year the week runs from Sunday to Sunday.

The octave was initiated in 1908 by Father Paul Wattson, co-founder of the Episcopalian Society of the Atonement (more commonly known as the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement). Fr. Paul, his fellow foundress Sister Lurana White and the friars were fervent supporters of corporate reunion between the Catholic and Anglican Churches and one of the principal missions of the Society of the Atonement was (and is) prayer and work for Christian unity.

In 1909 the Friars were received into the Catholic Church – the first community to be received corporately since the Reformation – and Fr. Paul was ordained a Catholic priest in 1910, remarkably swiftly considering that the bull Apostolicae Curae, declaring Anglican ordination “absolutely null and utterly void”, had only been promulgated fourteen years earlier, in 1896.

“Chair of Saint Peter”, “Atonement” (At-ONE-ment), “corporate reunion” – Fr. Paul Wattson (like Fr. Fernand Portal, whose tomb I visited last year on behalf of the Expats) can truly be considered one of the forerunners of the Anglican Use and the Ordinariates, and his Octave of Prayer should have a special place in our own mission and our hearts.

So I am wondering what the individual Ordinariate parishes, missions, sodalities, groups are planning for this year’s Week of Prayer and would be grateful for any comments you could add below.

Might I myself make a few humble suggestions – which maybe cannot be realised this year because of lack of time – but which might form a basis for next year’s planning? Most of my ideas are inspired by the mission of the Ordinariate to bring elements of Anglican  patrimony into the Catholic Church as gifts to be shared – this concept is extended to the whole of Christianity in Lumen Gentium, 8, quoted by Pope Benedict XVI in Anglicanorum Coetibus.

  • ecumenical bible study on several (or all) evenings of the week
  • an ecumenical “Songs of Praise”, where the choirs and congregations of all the local churches are invited to an evening of congregational and choral singing with readings and prayer (each choir presents a piece of its own choosing – some choirs might cooperate to sing one piece)
  • an ecumenical Evensong (with several choirs from different denominations or with a guest choir from an Anglican parish) – cf. St. Gregory the Great‘s plans for January 28th
  • exchange of preachers (opening the way for a rousing evangelical sermon or an erudite Anglican sermon in your church and giving you a chance maybe to introduce the Ordinariate’s view of ecumenism to others)
  • a discussion evening on the theme “What do we understand by ecumenism?”
  • a prayer service, maybe using the materials prepared by the WCC and the Pontifical Council (this year’s theme is John 4:7, “Give me to drink”) – followed by a lavish fellowship session, not just a coffee and cookie
  • early-morning ecumenical prayer gathering every day of the octave – with breakfast
  • etc., etc.

David Murphy

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13 Responses to What are you doing for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity?

  1. EPMS says:

    These would be excellent program ideas for two groups who were confident in their respective identities. The Catholic Archbishop of Toronto has led Lectio Divina sessions in the Anglican cathedral which were very well received. But the Ordinariates are generally perceived as entities specifically created to poach members from the Anglican church, and any Anglican clergyman participating in these activities would be viewed, I think, as someone halfway out the door to Rome.

    • Dear EPMS,

      This is precisely why we should be proactive in showing that we are not about poaching, proselytising, sheep-stealing. We have been given an ecumenical mission and should not be afraid to embrace it. I for one am not ashamed that I have become Catholic – but I most certainly do not expect everyone to do the same. I will say once again what I believe: we are not just a “decompression chamber” giving people a smooth path to Rome. We have the task of bringing and receiving gifts.

      The Atonement Friars also joined the Catholic Church, yet continue to be in the forefront of ecumenism. Swimming the Tiber does not disqualify us from being ecumenical.

      And we already have many examples within the Ordinariates (Stoneham, Bournemouth, Sheffield with their ecumenical singing, and many others in many ways)

      David Murphy

      • EPMS says:

        The Atonement Friars joined the Church a hundred years ago. Their commitment to ecumenism is well established. Most people are surprised to learn their origin. I think the Ordinariates’ mission is perceived, by themselves and by others, as primarily evangelical, not ecumenical. The vast majority of the UK members were worshipping regularly in an Anglican church a few short years ago, after all. If their erstwhile pewmates are keen to reconnect that is admirable; to me inviting an Ordinariate group to share in Week of Prayer activities seems analogous to a synagogue’s hosting Christian-Jewish Dialogue sessions with Jews for Jesus.

  2. EPMS, I do not understand why you are not willing to accept that many Ordinariate groups are indeed already engaged in ecumenical activities, whether through involvement in Churches Together, cooperation in Remembrance Day services, inviting local churches to take part in Evensong, musical cooperation (joint choirs, choir visits, composers from other denominations writing Mass settings, etc.)

  3. EPMS says:

    Of course members of diverse religious groups participate in events of mutual interest; these are not explicitly ecumenical activities, however; not activities intended to bring about deeper perspective on the other’s beliefs and identify areas of commonality, or otherwise.

  4. Andrew N. Jordan says:

    I am interested in this idea of “ecumenical” versus “evangelical”. What is the purpose of ecumenism if it is not about tangible unity? On one hand, there can be a goal of simply not hating each other, which is fine, but rather meager. Should not all Catholics be evangelical? The other hand holds the ultimate end of ecumenism, which is visible unity. That is what the Ordinariate offers – it is the tangible unity between Anglicans and Rome, and one that is respectful of their heritage – so long as there is true unity of faith. One can only be ecumenical if one is also evangelical. An “I’m ok, you’re ok” approach it is not ecumenism, it is relativism, which is one of many poisons killing the post-modern Christian.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      Andrew,

      You said: I am interested in this idea of “ecumenical” versus “evangelical”.

      Let’s start with the basic meaning of the terms.

      >> Ecumenism is fundamentally about Christian unity — the process by which members of different can work together to heal the schisms that divide them.

      >> Evangelism is about bringing the gospel (evangelium) of Jesus, the Christ, to those who do not yet believe.

      One cannot “evangelise” Anglican or Protestant Christians because they already believe the gospel.

      You continued: The concept of a vehicle in which the prime source of energy always runs at peak efficiency, with surplus energy being stored for when it’s needed, is certainly intriguing.

      However meager, that strikes me as a necessary first step if we are to heal the schisms that divide us — and it’s a first step that is not exactly trivial in some cases.

      You wrote: Should not all Catholics be evangelical?

      Yes, of course!

      But the plain reality is that many, unfortunately, including far too many of our clergy, are not.

      You wrote: The other hand holds the ultimate end of ecumenism, which is visible unity.

      Again, yes, of course!

      You wrote: That is what the Ordinariate offers – it is the tangible unity between Anglicans and Rome, and one that is respectful of their heritage – so long as there is true unity of faith.

      There are various models on the table as to how reconciliation might come about. Many Protestant denominations are looking more for mergers of equals, in which leaders of both retain their positions, than for one denomination becoming part of another — and indeed, we have seen some fine examples of this among various Protestant denominations and even among some “continuing Anglican” bodies.

      That said, there is a major divide between the denominations that have valid apostolic succession (which include the Catholic Church, the churches of the Orthodox Communion, the ancient oriental churches, the Polish National Catholic Church and its affiliates in the Union of Scranton, and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX)) and those that do not (the churches of the Anglican Communion, the various “continuing Anglican” bodies, and the multitude of Protestant denominations). The former simply cannot recognize ordination to ministry in the latter, making any sort of merger of equals utterly impossible — and this is only the tip of the iceberg of a major theological divide. As a result, any sort of “merger of equals” across this divide is utterly impossible.

      Of course, the plain reality is that the Catholic Church accounts for the overwhelming majority of the world’s (at least nominally) Christian population. Thus, there’s no way to effect Christian unity without the Catholic Church becoming the proverbial elephant in the room.

      You continued: That is what the Ordinariate offers – it is the tangible unity between Anglicans and Rome, and one that is respectful of their heritage – so long as there is true unity of faith.

      Rather, the ordinariates offer a tangible model by which non-Catholic groups can bring their traditions of worship, ecclesial organization, etc., into the Catholic Church, safeguarded by their own ecclesial structure. However, even this requires full doctrinal reconciliation — and the work toward doctrinal reconciliation is not easy since it requires an examination of how divergences came about in a forum of trust and respect. Of course, this is precisely the path set in motion by the Second Vatican Council through the decree Unitatis redintegratio.

      You continued: One can only be ecumenical if one is also evangelical.

      That’s an interesting question. I would rather suggest that one can only be fully Christian if one is also evangelical, and that one can only be fully Catholic if one is fully Christian. There is no doubt, however, that most evangelical Protestants do not care about the denominational label on a sign in front of a church building. If they go into a church building and hear the gospel preached, they will come back — often with their friends in tow.

      You concluded: An “I’m ok, you’re ok” approach it is not ecumenism, it is relativism, which is one of many poisons killing the post-modern Christian.

      To be sure, ecumenism cannot be about doctrinal compromise. Rather, ecumenical dialog must always be about seeking Truth together.

      On the other hand, an approach that’s off-putting to the other party (“I’m right and you’re wrong!”) is not exactly constructive. As the adage says, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Rather, what’s needed is a warm discussion that allows the other denomination to shift its position without embarrassment.

      Norm.

  5. EPMS says:

    Wikipedia distinguishes between “interfaith” activity, which is indeed “I’m okay, you’re okay”, and ecumenism, which promotes deeper understanding with the long-term goal of unity. For those for whom unity means “everyone joins my church” it would be hard to see a lot of point in listening to other points of view other than to gain insights which would be useful in persuading those who hold them to change them. I think that the Ordinariates are perceived as primarily a means of enabling those who are already practising Christians to change denomination, thus meeting the definition of proselytism. Lapsed Christians and the unchurched may also join but they are not the main focus. Evangelism is a broader Christian concept, I agree.

    • Dear EPMS,
      You are no doubt right that many people view the Ordinariate as a means of changing denomination, but I would invite you to think instead about the individual, flourishing Ordinariate Parish or Mission. Anyone attending St. Thomas More, Scranton; St John the Evangelist, Calgary; Most Precious Blood, London, etc., will not think of Denomination Change as much as of a dynamic, evangelising Christian community with enormous growth potential. No one need doubt their ecumenical credentials!

      David

  6. EPMS says:

    I am not clear about the connection between your first two sentences, with which I could agree, and the last one, which does not seem to be a logical consequence.

  7. EPMS says:

    Norm has added some very helpful clarification. Evangelism is an open door; ecumenism is a bridge with two-way traffic. When a Jehovah’s Witness calls, he is not interested in an ecumenical dialogue He is there to encourage me to become a Witness. He is especially not interested in reflecting critically on subjects like whether Jesus died on a cross, doctrinal items which define his religious identity. By the same token, an Ordinariate member does not really want to hear an Anglican explain why he accepts Catholic teaching yet remains in the Church of England. He knows all the arguments because he accepted them himself until relatively recently, then rejected them. He may refrain from saying “I’m right and you’re wrong” but that is nonetheless what he feels, what he has invested in to the point of leaving many things near and dear to him. So I do doubt the ecumenical credentials of these thriving parishes, at least that portion of them which consists of former Anglicans. This is not a criticism; I do not see how it could be otherwise.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      EPMS,

      You wrote: By the same token, an Ordinariate member does not really want to hear an Anglican explain why he accepts Catholic teaching yet remains in the Church of England. He knows all the arguments because he accepted them himself until relatively recently, then rejected them. He may refrain from saying “I’m right and you’re wrong” but that is nonetheless what he feels, what he has invested in to the point of leaving many things near and dear to him. So I do doubt the ecumenical credentials of these thriving parishes, at least that portion of them which consists of former Anglicans. This is not a criticism; I do not see how it could be otherwise.

      It’s a question of approach. When members of any two denominations meet to engage in ecumenical dialog, it’s obvious that participants from each denomination believe their respective denominations to be correct because it would be utterly disingenuous to remain in their respective denominations if they were to believe otherwise. However, the challenge of ecumenical dialog is to go deeper into the issues where there is agreement as well as where there is disagreement to understand how the points of disagreement came about. And when we do this, we often discover that what might have initially seemed to be real doctrinal differences are in fact differences in semantics or in emphasis rather than differences of real substance, and thus we discover that we are not so far apart as we thought.

      Of course, there are also issues where the differences are very real, and we cannot wallpaper over them. Where real differences do exist, we need to get to the heart of those differences to find the right way in scripture and tradition, then proceed together accordingly. But even here, a disposition toward collaboration rather than opposition is essential: it leaves both parties free to acknowledge distortions that might be the source of the divergence rather than causing both parties to dig in their heels in defence of the positions that they initially brought to the table — thus opening the door to real progress.

      Norm.

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