Drawn together by what separates us?
That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17)
From 18 to 25 January an increasing number of Christians have for over 70 years kept the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It would be sad if people thought they could not keep the Week sincerely this year because it was too difficult to pray with sincerity for unity a few weeks before General Synod debates the Rochester Report, a debate which may lead to legislation to permit the ordination of women as bishops. But if we reflect for a while this makes prayer for Unity even more urgent and important and, as long as we pray as suggested by Abbé Couturier, the architect of the Week of Prayer, for Unity according to His will, according to His means our prayer will be totally sincere. As the Abbé said:
All bear responsibility
The universal prayer of Christ may penetrate and reverberate in every Christian soul, giving full expression to the prayer of the whole Christ – the Risen Christ – EMULATING the prayer of Christ – all converging on God – in Christ. For at least one period during the year there must be great and visible intercession on the part of all the People of God, a living vibrant prayer, simultaneously rising up to God – because all bear responsibility for the fragmentation of Christendom. It is the Holy Spirit praying in us, rather than we praying on our own.
The greatest heresy of all
We must accept that, even if we have once made some disparaging, unkind or ungenerous remark about the other integrity in the Church of England, we have been guilty of what the Abbé called the greatest heresy of all, the heresy against love. The Lord loves all His children and by our baptism we are all members of His body, the Church.
The things which we
have in common – thy Book, thy Baptism, our faith in thee, in thine
Incarnation, in thy Redemption, and indeed many other beliefs – all this
unites us indissolubly, making us in thee, and through thee, children of thy
So prayed Abbé Couturier at the opening of an inter-confessional Bible circle. He went on:
United by suffering
But the things which
separate us, unite us even more closely – though in a different way – than
the things which we have in common. For
the things which separate us are the cause of intense suffering, the suffering
of being separated in our thoughts concerning thy Church: and there is nothing
that draws us together and unites us more closely than suffering.
That is why, this evening, we are here, drawn together by what we have in common, but drawn together still more closely by what separates us.
With one heart and one
soul we desire to pray to thee in one and the same prayer.
We desire that the prayer which we offer to thee shall arise from thine
own Book, from such pages of thy Book as shall tell thee in a new way that we
are one in our love and in our suffering.
O Christ, have pity.
O Christ, pardon us.
O Christ, make us
suffer so intensely by reason of our separation that thy prayer within us may
penetrate us, may take possession of us, may have free course in us, and ascend
to thy Father.
‘I in them, and thou
in me, that they may be made perfect in ONE!’
Trust and hope
If we could pray like this, there might be more hope for the future, and it is useless to pray when trust and hope are missing. Christians, like their Lord, have to learn to accept suffering and not to whinge about ‘their pain’. Are we strong and mature enough to be able to carry the cross of the suffering of our differences within the Church of England and Anglican Communion and between other churches and our own? Can we lead others in shouldering this cross? Let us keep the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity with even greater fervour this year. I suggest we use the prayers in our parishes and privately at home.
We recognise humbly
that we are all guilty.
Saviour forgive us.
Grant us the torment of prayer for Christian unity.
We ask it with all our soul, Saviour.
We know that there can be nothing that resists our prayer when it is the echo of your prayer on the night of your Passion.
Give my brothers and sisters in my own Church and in others an even greater holiness. May your Spirit enlighten us, guide us, direct us all, along your path which leads to unity. Saviour Jesus – the unity for which you prayed before your agony in the Garden.
Jane Gore-Booth is a member of General Synod
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