January 18-25 marks the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The week began in 1908 among an Anglo-Catholic strand of the Episcopal Church in New York State. The founders wanted to extend the notion of atonement from reconciliation with God to reconciliation of the churches. They identified the period between the Confession of Peter (18 January) and the Conversion of Paul (25 January) as a suitable season for praying for the at-one-ment of the churches. This year, the 110th, the theme is the Caribbean and the scriptural text is Exodus 15, focusing on modern slavery, human trafficking and abrogations of human rights.
This is how I think of ecumenism. A man had two sons. One ran away. One stayed at home. The one who ran away eventually realised being away from home was no fun. It meant being away from everything that made him know who he was. The one who stayed at home was cross and self-righteous and went out into the field and sulked. He thought he was staying at home but in truth he was as far away as his brother. The one who ran away we might call the Protestants. The one who went out into the field we might call the Catholics. But the words the Father has for both wayward children are the same words, words that are full of love, full of a desire to re-form us again, full of grace. This is what the father’s saying: ‘We were made to be one family. I can’t love just one of you. My love is made for both of you. How can you say you love me if you’re still separated from your brother? Don’t you realise you can’t be whole until you’re one with another, and you continue to break my heart as long as you divide my body? It’s time to come home. It’s time for both of you to come home.’
Revd Dr Sam Wells