In light of the upcoming Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – an international ecumenical initiative to unite Christian communities – the World Council of Churches released several guidelines for an accommodating worship service.
To involve more members from the community, the WCC wrote, “Make the service interesting and accessible, include laypersons in planning and holding the service and reach out to a church or Christian community which has not participated before.”
In terms of unity within the Christian community, the WCC encouraged churches to “show how unity is important locally – “include a commitment to witness and work together as Christians in your own community, include worship materials from the region, Be open to the symbols cherished by other Christians, and to adapt the materials into the context of the worship.”
The Week of Prayer is observed traditionally from January 18-25, but in the Southern hemisphere, churches often find days in the summer to celebrate it. The Week offers a key opportunity for Christians and churches to reaffirm their commitment to unity, through prayers worship and reflection.
The inspiration for the Week of Prayer began in the late 18th century where, in Scotland, the revivalist message of a Pentecostal movement included prayers for and within all churches. Over the years, important impulses came from Father Paul Wattson, then an Episcopalian priest; from the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops; from the Roman Catholic Church, not least from Abbé Paul Couturier of Lyon; from the Faith and Order movement; and from many individuals throughout the churches.
In 1966, the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Secretariat [now Pontifical Council] for Promoting Christian Unity began their official joint preparation of the Week of Prayer material. Since 1975, the initial draft of the material is prepared each year by a local ecumenical group.
Each year’s material is revised for world-wide distribution by representatives of the WCC’s Faith and Order Commission, and the Roman Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The local materials - coming in recent years from places as diverse as Malaysia, Italy, Syria and Argentina - are rooted in the challenges facing the churches there in their search for unity.
The WCC also released several tips for unity beyond the Week of Prayer. “Christian Unity is not for one week! Plan two more unity events during 2004,” they wrote.
“Make unity a theme throughout the year: pray for unity at each Sunday worship, at church council meetings, at fellowship dinners, pray for unity during pastors’ meetings and other clergy events” and to “stress our unity in our baptism into Christ.”
The material for the preparation of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2004 is available on-line at: http://wcc-coe.org/wcc/what/faith/wop2004.pdf