WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY
JANUARY 18–25, 2024
PREPARATION: Observing the Week of Prayer
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity gives Christians an annual opportunity to continue their quest for the unity they already share in Christ. It is also a time to gather in praise of the Triune God and to deepen the understanding of the ecumenical movement. By joining in this annual celebration Christians raise their voices, hands and hearts to God seeking the fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus, the Son of God, “that they all may be one.”
The Week of Prayer also invites those who participate to use it as an opportunity to examine the effectiveness of the ecumenical movement in seeking to end the divisions among Christians. From the smallest to the largest communities, from all cultures, races and language groups, from all the baptized to all those in ordained ministry, the Week of Prayer is also an opportunity to ask and examine the level of support they have given to this important movement in the life of the Church. An accounting of each Christian’s discipleship and faithfulness to the proclamation of the Gospel—the good news of reconciliation—can be taken every year during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
What follows are some suggestions that we hope can assist Christians in the experience of observing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and celebrating the 2024 theme: “You shall love the Lord your God… and your neighbor as yourself.” (cf. Luke 10:27) This is by no means a comprehensive listing. We hope that as you create your own opportunities of prayer for Christian unity you will share those with others. Each new experience of prayer and gathering provides the Christian faith community with opportunities to grow in our understanding of one another as we celebrate our unity and common mission.
- If churches in your area have not observed the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity before, or for a long time, consider gathering together a small and representative group of Christians who would be willing to work together on ways to celebrate in your community. Call on your congregation and the two or three in your immediate area. You could also call on local ecumenical agencies, councils of churches, ministerial associations or ecumenical commissions. The initial group could be expanded as momentum increases. It can continue as a task force for consideration of other celebrations or ways throughout the year to further the work of Christian unity. Some additional suggestions are available in the section Christian Unity Throughout the Year.
- If you celebrate regularly, then it is time to reconvene the planning committee from last year. It is a wise thing to keep a list of phone numbers, addresses and church affiliation information for each member from year to year. Perhaps it is time to expand the group to new members. Take time together to think creatively about liturgical forms for observance of the Week, but also of other ways in which the ecumenical movement can be encouraged. Always share responsibilities for planning, deadlines and budget.
- If your congregation is hosting the events this year remember to invite other Christians from your neighboring congregations to be part of the planning in any case, so that your celebration can be as ecumenical as possible. An ecumenical prayer service should be used. If so, liturgical roles should properly be shared. See the Ecumenical Celebration of the Word of God.
- Think about promotion. Write press releases that share your plans in your community for the celebration of Ecumenical Sunday (the Sunday within the Week of Prayer or the second Sunday if there are two) and other Week of Prayer events and activities. These can be publicized in church media (parish bulletins, congregational newsletters, diocesan newspapers or bulletin boards) and in local secular media (newspapers, television and radio). Find out if members of your committee or from the participating congregations may be involved in communications, public relations or the news media.
- Build relationships with the news media. Invite editors of print, radio and television media in your area to a planning meeting, so that you can learn what they might see as newsworthy in your Week of Prayer plans. Alternatively, hold a news conference to offer highlights of community ecumenical achievements.
- Suggest to local print and electronic journalists a feature story or news item on local ecumenical activity. While coverage of the Week of Prayer events is an appropriate suggestion, an intriguing story on some critical issue affecting interchurch life and witness today may have special interest and appeal for readers and viewers—especially the local reading and viewing audience.
- Establish a page in your local church website on the theme and special events planned for the Week of Prayer.
- At the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity gather your planning group and other interested persons for an evaluation of your local observance of the Week. Part of the evaluation may be your response to the form provided with these resource materials (see Response Form). At this meeting, try to get a commitment for next year. You could also consider setting up an ongoing ecumenical task force for your area to promote other prayer services throughout the year as well as other ways to promote the ecumenical movement through bible study, lectures, social justice projects, etc. See Christian Unity Throughout the Year.
- Schedule at least one major Ecumenical Celebration of the Word of God during the Week of Prayer. The celebration can fall on any day of the week. Ecumenical Sunday, that is the Sunday falling within the Week of Prayer (January 22 in 2024), or the first day of the Week (January 18), or the last (January 25), often works well. These services of prayer tend to be easier to schedule as evening prayer services. In some communities Christians come together to pray for unity at another time of the year. The materials provided may be used flexibly.
- During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity worship daily in different churches of the community using the traditional prayer forms of the host congregation. If possible or permitted, include in each service leaders, readers and choirs from the various participating congregations. Follow the service with refreshments and fellowship.
- Where joint worship cannot be shared, have pulpit and/or choir exchanges, observing the norms of reciprocity of the participating churches.
- Include activities and events of neighborhood churches and congregations in your Sunday bulletin. Ask the other churches to do the same for your events. Encourage attendance and participation in one another’s events, mindful of the norms of each community.
- Pray together ecumenically, or in your own church for the ministers, leaders and members of all the Christian congregations in your area. Include a petition for their success in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “that they all may be one.”
- Organize a concert to share the music used in different worship traditions.
- Organize tours of area churches conducted by guides who can share each church's art, architecture, history, organization, liturgical traditions, membership profile, outreach programs, etc. Conclude with a time for refreshments and fellowship.
- On Ecumenical Sunday or another time during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, include prayers for ecumenical ministries and organizations. Display media materials from these agencies. During the prayer services, call for an offering of food, clothing and money designated for these agencies.
- Launch a speaker series, featuring theologians, ecumenical specialists/staff, spiritual directors or social justice leaders.
- Use Ecumenical Sunday as a study day for your congregation or a group of congregations in your area to learn more about living a faithful Christian life ecumenically. Update your community on the progress being made and the hurdles yet to pass on the road to Christian unity.
- Ask representatives of ecumenical groups, agencies, communities of prayer and interchurch marriage and family support groups to share materials at an ecumenical fair during fellowship hour following your Sunday service/liturgy or during an afternoon or evening program.
- Coordinate a child/youth Ecumenical Sunday experience in the community. Mimes, musicians, storytellers and crafts persons offer unique ways to develop future ecumenists. In the context of an Ecumenical Sunday fun fair, families and individuals can experience ecumenism and perhaps become more deeply involved in building unity among the churches.
- Sponsor a contest—essay, prayer, art, poster—to involve young people in an effort to articulate and illustrate the quest for Christian unity or the 2024 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity theme. Offer prizes, display the entries and include the winners in a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity event.
- Organize joint meetings of similar congregational groups—catechists and Sunday school teachers, parish councils and vestries, finance committees, youth, seniors, men's, women's, interchurch families for prayer, socializing and informal sharing of experiences.
- Schedule joint Bible study sessions around “You shall love the Lord your God… and your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Luke 10:27) as suggested for the 2024 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Consider using the daily scripture guide and questions for reflection for these gatherings. These could be hosted in homes or in parishes on a rotating basis. Ministers and teachers of various congregations could also take turns as worship leaders and study guides. The gathering should include informal prayer for the unity of the Church. Hopefully, the group might wish to extend such study and prayer throughout the year.
- Offer a morning, afternoon or evening for reflection focusing on the prayer of Christ “that they all may be one” from John 17:1–26 and on this year's theme of “You shall love the Lord your God… and your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Luke 10:27).