Praying 'that all may be free'
THE annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity starts today, heralding a period of prayer and reflection on the theme 'that all may be free'.
It is fair to say that observance of the week - actually eight days, the octave of St Peter and St Paul - has become more low-key, but it still has an important role as a reminder of the Christian call to be a peace-maker.
The Rt Rev John McDowell, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Clogher and chair of the denomination's Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue, acknowledged that though "its popularity may have fallen off a little in recent years", the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has "the enormous advantage of being recognised as a time of prayer and reflection throughout the Christian West and beyond".
"In my own diocese, I have found that the involvement of schools and young people can add a new vigour and perspective to our events while still making use of the material and ideas made available by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland," he said.
"The week helps us to re-focus on our vocation to be reconcilers and peace-makers within the Church and in the world."
Bishop McDowell explained that this year's resources had been modelled on material from the Church in the Caribbean, with the theme of "victory over oppression, 'that all may be free'" from Exodus 15.
"This should help us to remember that ecumenical activity has a purpose beyond itself, in this case proclaiming the great gospel values of liberation and justice," he said.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity dates back to 1908 when an American Episcopalian Franciscan, Fr Paul Watson, started gatherings to pray for unity.
Contemporary issues raised in the Caribbean Church material include abuses of human rights and the challenge of welcoming the stranger into our midst.
Human trafficking, slavery, addictions to pornography and drugs, the effect of debt on nations and individuals and strains on family life are also considered.
- Unity week services will take place in St Anne's Church of Ireland Cathedral in Belfast on Tuesday January 23 at 7pm and the Church of Ireland St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh on Wednesday January 24 at 7.30pm. Fr Kieran McDermott, Administrator of St Mary's Pro Cathedral in Dublin and Episcopal Vicar for Evangelisation and Ecumenism in the Archdiocese of Dublin, will be the preacher.
- Prayer for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: God our Father, We ask you to send your Holy Spirit ever more deeply into our hearts and minds that we may think thoughts of peace, speak words that build up and do the truth always in love, the truth that sets us free, the truth that gives us hope, Amen
Donaghmore ecumenical service
THE spirit of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has been enthusiastically embraced in the Donaghmore area of Co Tyrone.
Two years ago, to help celebrate the refurbishment of St Patrick's church, the Catholic parish of Donaghmore hosted an Inter-Church Worship service, at which former Presbyterian moderator Dr John Dunlop was the speaker.
Last year, the Inter-Church service was hosted by the Church of Ireland in Castlecaulfield, and this year it returns to St Patrick's.
North Belfast Presbyterian minister the Rev Dr Lesley Carroll - originally from the neighbouring area of Newmills - will be the speaker, with the Ecumencial Prayer Service due to start at 7.30pm on Tuesday January 23.
All are welcome and there will be refreshments after the service.