TORRINGTON, CT (SZS) — The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is traditionally observed on the eight days beginning January 18, which is the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter, and ending on January 25, the day commemorating the Conversion of St. Paul. It is a Christian ecumenical observance which is recognized internationally by Christians world-wide, including Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants. While prayer observances for unity can be found among various churches dating back hundreds of years, its roots as an eight day observance (octave) can be traced to 1908 when it began as the Octave of Christian Unity in the Roman Catholic Church, and in the mid-1920’s when leaders in the Protestant churches proposed a week of prayer for unity among Christians preceding Pentecost. In 1941, the Faith and Order Conference changed the dates to those used by the Catholic Church, and with the founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948 (which includes most of the world’s Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Reformed, and other churches), this observance became more well known. Efforts began in 1958 to produce joint materials for this observance, followed by the first official use of joint materials in 1968.
Each year, a member church of one of the observing global churches provides the theme and materials for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. For example, an ecumenical group from the Christian churches in Slovakia provided the theme and materials for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2005. This year’s 2019 theme and material has been prepared by Christians from various churches in Indonesia. The theme is “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue…,” which is inspired by Deuteronomy 16:18-20. These words were chosen by the Christians in Indonesia because they speak powerfully to their current situation and needs in a land diverse in ethnicities, language, and religion. These brothers and sisters in Christ face challenges which affect the fragile harmony of life, such as competitive economic systems, corruption affecting politics, business, and the environment, and undermining justice and law. The theme is reminiscent of how those in the biblical narrative, before entering the land God promised them, renewed their commitment to the Covenant God established with them. This year’s resource materials for worship, prayer, Bible study, and reflection are available as a pdf here, and may be used during this octave of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, or in other contexts throughout the year.
During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the Lutheran World Federation is launching the LWF’s Ecumenical Commitments document “in order to express LWF’s continuous commitment to Christian unity.” Beginning on January 18, this document will be introduced and one of the six Ecumenical Commitments shared over each day of the week; since it is a working document, it is commended to you for reception and study, as well as feedback.