a screenshot of friars celebrating online the week of prayer for Christian unity

The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement hosted a virtual ecumenical prayer service during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

When the Sisters of Grandchamp offered the theme to the churches in September 2018, they could not have imagined the crisis of a universal pandemic in the life of the church throughout 2020 and deeply into 2021. Even the wonderful ritual in the Ecumenical Celebration of the Word of God they drafted, of a movement of concentric circles of people holding candles moving closer and closer to a central Christ Candle, had to be adapted to social distancing.”

Yet the theme of all being connected as branches through the one vine, Jesus Christ, holds great significance in an isolated humanity. The powerfully negative things that keep us apart, such as theological and interpretive disagreements, chauvinism, nationalism, exclusion and bigotry, took on less significance due to the forced need for separation due to COVID-19. Answering the need to see how we were nonetheless still together as one, the vision of the grapevine spoken of by Jesus gives us all a direction of hope.

In the United States, we at Graymoor support the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, observed here from 18-25 January, with resources provided by the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, as well as commentary by American theologians and other writers. Many of these resources are provided in anticipation of live, in-person, ecumenical gatherings of prayer. This was not the case in 2021. As with the rest of human interaction during the pandemic, we turned to technology. Zoom became the chosen platform. With the great assistance and ingenuity of our associate director, Dr Aaron Hollander, we were able to create an online ecumenical coalition to produce daily reflections and a rather ingenious Ecumenical Service including music from the Interchurch Center in New York, that invited all who clicked on our website and those of other friends to pray together on Sunday, 24 January.

In the United States we expect live services to return in 2022. But we also learned we could spread the observance of the Week of Prayer further afield with technology. We plan on doing both from now on. A blessing in this year of pain. May they all be one.

About the author :

Rev. James Loughran, SA, is the vicar general and first councilor of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement and director of the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute located in New York. He is a former member of the Faith & Order Commission of the National Council of Churches, USA, and engaged in local and national dialogues between Catholics and Jews.


The impressions expressed in the blog posts are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.