Every year, churches around the world take part in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an ecumenical celebration held the week of January 18-25. In Canada, activities are coordinated by the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC). Maria Simakova, co-ordinator of the CCC's commission on faith and witness, tells Kristin Ostensen, associate editor, how and why churches can get involved.

What is the purpose of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity?

Ecumenical work encompasses many things, but communal prayer is a huge component of that because if we can't pray together, we probably can't live together, study together or know each other. This week is an opportunity for people to pray together on a local level— to come together as churches and have fellowship with brothers and sisters.

What resources does the CCC provide?

We provide a packet of materials, which is available on our website. It includes posters, bulletins, a formatted order of service and more. It also includes tips on how to organize and plan a local service, with a suggested timeline. We ask a prominent preacher in Canada to prepare a mini-sermon based on the theme. This year, as with last year, we're proud of the fact that we're providing an Eastern rite service, so that Eastern Rite Catholics and Orthodox can participate.

What is the theme for this year?

This year is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, so the team from Germany who prepared the texts for 2017 chose the theme “Reconciliation: The Love of Christ Compels Us.” They're riffing on 2 Corinthians 5:14-20, but they're also, in an ecumenical fashion, borrowing that quote from Pope Francis' The Joy of the Gospel. The idea is to celebrate the anniversary of the Reformation, while also taking time to reflect on the ruptures and rifts that have happened in the church. So it's also a time for repentance and remembering that reconciliation has to come from our hearts, as well as from God.

One of my favourite moments in the worship service is the visual component. Being from Germany, the team thought about walls, how walls divide people. So during the service, the leaders come up and build a wall of stones, made of cardboard, and then, in the middle of the service, they dismantle it stone by stone. Each stone represents a sin of division that they dismantle through repentance.

If a church has not participated in this week of prayer before, what's a good way to get involved?

Ideally, several parishes in the local area should come together and put together a service. But there are a number of things you can do. You can take bits and pieces of our service and insert them into your Sunday worship. The service has Scripture readings and prayers—it's very adaptable. Another thing you can do is a Bible study. The international team produces Eight Days of Prayer Bible studies, which provide reflections on Christian unity and reconciliation, with Scripture and a prayer at the end. You could take that up as a Bible study in your congregation, or approach another church and work on it together.

Why should Christian unity be a priority for the Canadian church?

One of our mottos is “It's always better to do things together.” We can work together on projects that are important not just to Christians, but to Canada in general. For instance, in the past year, we've seen an enormous amount of Christian collaboration around refugees, communities co-sponsoring refugees together—that's an ecumenical endeavour. As well, we are all aware that Christianity is not a growing religion anymore in Canada, so often people are encouraged by meeting other Christians; it's a chance to support one another. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity gives us a chance to be introduced to the diversity of the Christian expressions in Canada. Canada is amazing in that sense—you can probably find every single expression of Christianity that is available worldwide here, so this is a chance to learn how the grace and love of Christ is expressed by members of different theological and cultural communities. It may be a bit challenging, but I think it's rewarding.

Photo of Maria SimakovaFor more information about the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, contact Maria Simakova at simakova@ councilofchurches. ca. To download resources, visit weekofprayer.ca.



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