Christians in Argentina, Brazil, Australia and many other places in the southern hemisphere have been engaged in responding to the joint call by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Roman Catholic Church to pray for Christian unity this week.
Lately I have been witnessing, mainly through social media, how groups from this part of the world are gathering to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (WPCU). But I also see how production and use of these liturgical resources and prayers bring to light the importance of these most basic elements in our common search for Christian unity.
I have been directly involved in the life and work of the WCC since 2005. One of the issues I hear about most is the problem of reception of what is produced by the Council. People often mention that what is discussed and agreed upon in our WCC governing bodies rarely reaches the daily life of congregations in our 345 member churches.
The challenge to reflect about the WPCU in relation to the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace has convinced me of the crucial value of liturgical and prayer resources for the future of the ecumenical movement. The WPCU shows us a different dynamic than the classic difficulty of reception. It reminds us of the most fundamental, grassroots elements of the ecumenical quest: sharing, communion, prayer.
Whenever I looked at my timelines on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram this week, and I saw photos of WPCU celebrations that took place in a remote areas of Uruguay or in large cities of Brazil, I witnessed effective appropriation of ecumenical fruits.
The resources of the WPCU are ecumenically produced, shared and, as needed, adapted to a particular context – as the Faith and Unity Commission of the National Council of Churches in Australia did for this year’s edition of the WPCU.
In times like these, when national, regional, and global church councils struggle to redefine their vision and mandate and to adapt to a new global dynamics, I believe that the production and sharing of liturgical and prayer resources should be an essential part of plans for the future. They offer us a hands-on experience of ecumenical encounter and a direct contact with material produced ecumenically. This adds positive value to the church members’ own interest in ecumenical involvement, and it creates more bonds between the global ecumenical agenda and the life of the congregations.
In Argentina, the Ecumenical Commission of Christian Churches (CEICA) shared a simple digital leaflet through social media with the calendar of celebrations for the week, which includes praying in churches of different traditions every day. Ecumenically engaged people, such as the two Argentinean members of the WCC Central Committee, quickly spread the material. Such enthusiasm is a signal that people will directly engage in ecumenical initiatives if the message is clear and the goal is tangible.
From the “think tank” moment, which usually takes place three years in advance, to the actual praying and celebrating together, the WPCU process is vivid and full of life. In 2012, the National Council of Churches of Brazil (CONIC) was encouraged to play the role of facilitator in the process of production of the materials for the 2015 WPCU. Their resources focused on a theme based on John 4:7: “Jesus said to her: ‘Give me to drink.’”
The opportunity came as Rev. Romi Marcia Bencke was beginning her term as CONIC’s general secretary. Romi, who is a friend of mine, is the first woman to hold that position in the 30-year history of CONIC. Her presence and vision were crucial to the process and led to the clear inclusion of gender-related issues in the WPCU resources. Here again, direct involvement offers opportunities and adds more diversity to the movement as a whole.
Finally, this exercise of trying to identify links between the WPCU and the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace has reminded me of the theme that my home church, the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil (IECLB), has chosen to reflect upon during the current year, as they focus especially on communications: “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
That text, from Luke 24:17, is part of the narrative of the appearance of Jesus to the two disciples walking to Emmaus, which happened the same day that he rose from the dead. To me, the essence of that dialogue is, on the one hand, Jesus’ interest on how his people reflect on his message and legacy and, on the other hand, the fact that mission and communion grow as people walk together and communicate.
As we engage in so many different ways in the Pilgrimage, I wonder about how we actually share (communicate) with each other along the way. In this particular week, I feel that the resources of the WPCU are like bread baked by many hands being shared and feeding many of us sisters and brothers as we walk the path of Christian unity.