Next week (18 th -25 th January) is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It is a time when we remember that, although we may be part of different churches, with different traditions and different worship styles, we are united in the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is a time to celebrate what we share, rather than the differences which are so often emphasised.
As students, most of our training was through the Cambridge Theological Federation. This allowed us to study a much wider range of subjects, and to benefit from the wisdom of tutors from across the denominations and faith groups. It also meant that we studied together – as Westminster College was small, with a range of different courses on offer, I was often the sole non-Anglican in the class, which made things interesting.
Once a fortnight we would join together for Federation Worship, when the colleges would take it in turns to lead a service in their tradition, allowing us to experience not only Anglican worship, with their Westcott House and Ridley Hall being at opposite ends of the CofE spectrum, but also Catholic, Methodist and Orthodox. We also benefited from the experience of the Woolf Institute, which fosters relationships between Jews and Christians, and the Faraday Institute with its focus on science and religion.
Worshipping together gave us not only insights into each other’s traditions and worship styles, but also served as a reminder of how close we are, even to those who initially seem very different. One of the highlights for me was the paradox of helping to lead an Ash Wednesday early morning communion service jointly with the Catholic college. It was a very moving experience, particularly since both denominations were being asked to do something which didn’t come naturally; since the URC does not have a tradition of distributing ashes, and the Catholics who do, do not normally share communion with other groups. Together, we were able to lead a service which was meaningful for everyone, and which both recognised and celebrated our differences, but also what we share.
In a year when there is so much uncertainty, it seems more important than ever to celebrate the truth and unity of our faith. Usually, in Bromley, we would mark the week with a pulpit exchange, with ministers swapping churches for the day. That cannot happen this year, though there will be a joint service at 6.30pm on Sunday 24 th January, and all are invited to join together on Zoom for this occasion (if you would like to share in this act of worship, please let me know, and I will let you have the details nearer the time).
I don’t yet know if there is anything specific happening in Hayes, though there is much to celebrate from our unity – the success of the Hayes Community Foodbank shows not only how important it is to work together, but how powerful it can be when we do. We look forward to what else God might be leading us to do together in the months and years ahead.
What can we do to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity during the current lockdown?
- Pray for the other churches in our area, for their ministers, leaders and congregations.
- Watch an online service from a different tradition or denomination – there are lots to choose from on YouTube
- Use the resources produced by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland to inspire you during the week. The booklet entitled “Abiding in Christ” includes daily reflections and a service prepared by the Monastic Community of Grandchamp in Switzerland. It can be downloaded from their website at :https://ctbi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/WPCU-2021- English-pamphlet-Final.pdf.pagespeed.ce.SnR5lgw9dp.pdf
Loving and gracious God, in these times of uncertainty and challenge, help us to grow closer to one another and to you. As individuals and as churches may we recognise our distinctiveness but also celebrate our unity, remembering that it is only by abiding in Christ that we may be fruitful for you. Amen.
With love and blessings,