Pastor's Corner: Joining together in Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Last updated 1/17/2020 at 11:49am
This weekend, we, as Christians in Havre and the surrounding area, will join with other believers all over the world in launching the celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Though the international event officially kicks off Saturday, an ecumenical worship at 6 p.m. Sunday, hosted by the Community Alliance Church, 925 Eighth St., will launch our local manifestation of the commemoration.
With the overarching theme of “They Showed Us Unusual Kindness” (Acts 28:2), this marks the 113th year dedicated to this prayer movement begun by an Episcopal priest and sister in upstate New York who hoped to reunite the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church.
This is my second year as a Lutheran pastor — but my 15th annum as a baptized follower of Christ — and, admittedly, while I would have guessed such a commemoration could be found on a calendar, just as a National Lima Bean Respect Day — April 20 — and National Lost Sock Memorial Day — May 9 — each apparently exist, I had never heard of it until I arrived in northcentral Montana.
Now, I will confess I did not attend any events related to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity a year ago when it did come to my attention. Frigid weather to which I was still acclimating after spending the last two years in Arizona, the necessity of commuting from my Big Sandy home at o’dark-thirty for morning breakfast devotionals and a certain level of skepticism about how much “unity” can exist in the church universal these days kept me away.
Yet I spoke afterward to a colleague who attended a Monday morning fellowship last year and felt her spirit warmed by her interactions with a fellow Christian she would probably never have sat next to on a Sunday morning. It has remained something in the back of my mind since then and I felt Spirit-led to agree to have my congregation host a weekday breakfast/devotional this year.
I honestly do not entirely know what I am getting myself — and a volunteer group of congregants — into. It is supposed to rise above 0 degrees next week but still might not get above freezing. I will still have to drive in the dark to attend any of the events. I still know there are so many areas in which Christians do not agree within the same congregation, nevertheless across many denominational lines.
Lutherans have fractured in disagreements about human sexuality going back more than a decade and felt tensions about immigration during this past year. The United Methodist Church faces a proposal to dis-unite when its General Conference meets in just a few months, based on differences on LGBT-related issues. The data journalism website FiveThirtyEight wrote prominently last month about my generation, the millennials, “leaving religion and not coming back” as evidenced by Pew Research surveys. The article cited scholarship pointing to “negativity,” an association with increased political partisanship and intolerance of others with different beliefs among causes for nearly as many aged 22 to 39 to identify as non-religious as Christian.
Yet I can draw on countless beautiful and meaningful interactions with Christians from mainline, evangelical, Pentecostal and decidedly unorthodox expressions of the faith during the years I spent as a hospital chaplain in the Southwest. I have written previously in these pages about the hope engendered in ecumenical dialogue around the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. My favorite parable told by Jesus is still that of the Good Samaritan, with the Samaritans representing a religious tradition similar to Christ’s own, but yet one that drew suspicion from even among his followers.
I am intrigued by what we see in the story from which the theme verse is drawn. “They” who show unusual kindness are not even Christians but natives of the island of Malta where the apostle Paul shipwrecked. Their kindness is extraordinary in a time and Mediterranean culture in which great hospitality was widely practiced and expected. Believed to be Phoenician colonists practicing a Canaanite pagan religion, the islanders built a fire and welcomed an inherently threatening bunch of prisoners and soldiers. Across differences, they formed mutual bonds, respect, healing and honor before Paul departed. None of this was likely but illustrates for us that even now it remains possible.
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Jan. 19-24, 2020
6 p.m. Sunday, Community Alliance Church, “All Church Sing”
7 a.m. Monday, First Lutheran Church
7 a.m. Tuesday, Van Orsdel United Methodist Church
7 a.m. Wednesday, Messiah Lutheran Church
7 a.m. Thursday, St. Jude Thaddeus Church
7 a.m. Friday, Havre Assembly of God
The Rev. Sean A. Janssen
Christ-Messiah Lutheran Parish
Christ Lutheran Church, Big Sandy
Messiah Lutheran Church, Havre