Christians worldwide prepare to gather in prayer for unity— even if distanced

Even as nations continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, final preparations are under way for one of the world’s largest annual prayer observances, traditionally celebrated 18-25 January. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity involves Christian communities from many traditions and all parts of the globe. At a time when public health concerns put a limit on physical gatherings, it provides an opportunity for churches to come together by means of a typically Christian practice that long predates modern transport: prayer.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity has been jointly organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity of the Roman Catholic Church since 1968. In the southern hemisphere, where January is a vacation time, churches often find other days to celebrate it, for example around Pentecost, also a symbolic date for unity.

Tasked with preparing the 2021 edition, the Community of Grandchamp in Switzerland chose the theme “Abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit” (cf. Jn 15:5-9). This allowed the community’s 50 sisters from diverse confessions and countries to share the wisdom of their contemplative life abiding in the love of God.

 “It is not easy to always remain in Christ, to abide in his love,” says Sister Anne-Emmanuelle Guy, prieure of Grandchamp. “Daily community life is where I can verify where I stand with my love of others and of God. For how can I say that I love God if I do not love my sister, my brother living alongside me?”

For Rev. Dr Odair Pedroso Mateus, interim WCC deputy general secretary and director of its Faith and Order Commission, the prayer journey outlined in the Week of Prayer booklet can help us to stay connected as a community even when we need to limit our physical contacts in order to protect the most vulnerable: “Prayer often involves a kind of self-isolation, focussing our minds and hearts on the love of Christ; but when we pray for unity, we enter into closer communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ.”