Christian unity aim of Week of Prayer

 — Jan. 10, 198710 janv. 1987

by James D. Davis, Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel

The night before he died, Jesus prayed a strange, earnest prayer for his disciples — “that they may all be one, even as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee … that the world may believe that Thou didst send me.”

The prayer was strange because, at the time, his leading followers were all in the room with him. It no longer seems strange some 1,900 years later — with more than 1,200 Christian denominations, communions and sects in the United States alone.

Hence the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which will be celebrated nationally for its 80th year from Jan. 18 to 25.

Reconciliation is “central to God’s redeeming plan,” according to a joint statement by Bishop Philip Cousin, president of the National Council of Churches, and Bishop James Malone, head of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“We need this week because we project an image of being at odds with each other,” Cousin explained in a phone interview this week. “We need to realize we are one in Christian unity and purpose.

“We are under the judgment of the Word, which says that Jesus is Lord,” added Cousin, who also is Florida bishop for the African Methodist Episcopal Church. “We must not be symbols of division and destruction. We must be symbols of love and reconciliation.”

Some of that unity already is working at the local level. The Rev. John Frerking, vice president for the Pan-Lutheran Association of Palm Beach County, recalls getting a dozen red roses on the 500th birthday of Martin Luther — from the Rev. Alexis Paul, a neighboring Catholic priest.

“We’ve been friends for years; his congregation used our church when it was starting,” says Frerking, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in North Palm Beach. “Things are so different from the suspicions I grew up with.

“I feel sorry for any church that’s still holding back.”

Frerking will be a guest speaker at one of several area celebrations during the week. That event is set for 5 p.m. Jan. 21 at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary, 10701 S. Military Trail, Boynton Beach.

The Archdiocese of Miami, which includes 44 Broward parishes, is making unity a monthlong event with nearly a dozen meetings at various sites. The archdiocese began the emphasis after 1980, partly in response to the brutal Miami riots that year.

To pray for the success of the meetings, clergy will gather next Wednesday at the Chapel of the Venerable Bede, at the University of Miami. About 40 ministers attended last year, according to organizer Carlos Cueto of the archdiocese.

A major service will start at 4 p.m. Jan. 17 at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 244 SW 24th Road, Miami. Ranking churchmen will be Archbishop Iakovos, Greek Orthodox spiritual leader for the Western Hemisphere, and Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh, ecumenical officer for the archdiocese.

The week first was observed in 1908 at a monastery in Graymoor, N.Y.

Timing for the week falls between two feast days for St. Peter, commemorating his jailings in Rome and Antioch.

More recently, the week falls near the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 15. This year the nation will celebrate King’s birthday on the 19th, a day into the Christian unity week.

Ecumenical leaders are making much of King’s own coalition-minded work.

“History will recognize him as one of the outstanding Christian figures who have really demonstrated their faith,” Cousin said. “He spoke to a lot of needs across racial and ethnic lines.

“We wanted to put our week on his coattails, since he was such a man of peace. You can’t have world peace without peace in the churches calling for it.”

Ecumenists see reasons for their optimism. The top 50 religion stories of 1986, as chosen by U.S. religion news writers, included several with strong unity themes:

— Three denominations voted to merge into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a new body of 5.3 million members.

— Pope John Paul II hosted other religious leaders in a prayer for world peace in Assisi, home of the revered St. Francis.

— Christians of North and South Korea met for the first time since Korea was split in 1945.

— About 7,600 Pentecostal and charismatic leaders met in New Orleans to plan a 1987 convention — which is expected to draw 75,000 people in July.

Frerking saw several reasons for the ecumenical spirit among Christians. “For so long, Christians have thought of themselves as branches. Now we think more of the trunk of the tree: what we have in common.”

Another reason for ecumenism, Frerking said, was the belief that many modern problems are “moral issues,” such as drug abuse, nuclear weaponry and stresses on families. “It has made us do some soul searching on how we’re meeting people’s needs. And in that process we’ve reached out to other churches and gained strength from one another.”

On the other hand, conflict stories were not lacking last year, either. The pope told the archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the world’s 50 million Anglicans, that the ordination of women as priests stood as an “increasingly serious obstacle” to reunion.

The World Evangelical Fellowship, an alliance of conservative Protestants, adopted a major statement specifying its distinctives from Catholicism. And controversial letters by church leaders — one by Catholic bishops on the U.S. economy, one by Methodist bishops against nuclear weapons — drew fire inside and outside their own circles.

In Florida, apathy still drags on the ecumenical process. An area pastor complained this week that he couldn’t interest his ministerial association in an ecumenical service, although it held them in past years.

“They formed a committee, looked into it, then said they didn’t have time,” complained the minister, who asked not to be named. “I think some of it is turf guarding. Some of them are reluctant to discuss differences. And some are afraid to let the laity gather to discuss differences.

“It’s a pity. The Bible says we have one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

But leaders also point to other events such as the startling 1982 agreement on major doctrines among Catholic and Protestant theologians. And last November, Anglican leaders agreed their views of the Eucharist are “consonant in substance” with Catholic doctrines.

“Almost every major Protestant group has a dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church,” remarks Monsignor Walsh of the Miami archdiocese. “There’s probably been more progress in the last 20 years than in the last 400.

“We have miles to go, no question about it,” he adds. “But that won’t stop discussion. Ecumenism doesn’t mean sliding our differences under the carpet. It means study, prayer and an attempt to reconcile.”

Posted: Jan. 10, 1987 • Permanent link:
Categories: NewsIn this article: Christian unity, church union, spiritual ecumenism, WPCU
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Catégorie : NewsDans cet article : Christian unity, church union, spiritual ecumenism, WPCU

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