When the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is observed around the world this year from Jan. 18 to 25, there will be a special focus on Canada.
Each year, churches in a different country are invited to prepare materials for worship, reflection and prayer during the week, including information about their country’s context. This is the third time in the 100-year history of the Week of Prayer that Canada has been selected as the country in focus. An ecumenical Canadian team prepared the 2014 materials that were reviewed by the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; the materials have now been distributed to national church councils around the world. The theme they chose was “Has Christ Been Divided?” from 1 Corinthians.
Sandra Beardsall, a professor of church history and ecumenics at St. Andrew’s College at the University of Saskatchewan, was part of the ecumenical team that collectively wrote the Canadian materials over several months in 2012. She said the team liked the passage from Corinthians because it was provocative, challenging and humbling. “On one hand, we have a lot to celebrate around our ecumenical accomplishments in Canada, but we realized that we also wrestle with continuing issues of division.”
Beardsall said writing the introductory article on the ecumenical context and presenting Canada to the world was probably the most challenging part of the team’s work. “We were from all different regions of the country. We were representing different denominations. We did our work in two languages, English and French, and then suddenly we had to talk about the Canadian context, and we realized there isn’t necessarily one,” she said. “That took lots of patient reflection and revising because one group of us would use a phrase that we thought was perfectly acceptable and another group would say, ‘No, that has connotations that we can’t live with,’ ” she said.
Once the team had settled on the content, Beardsall was one of the team members who went to Montreal to present it for review by representatives from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches’ commission on Faith and Order (of which Canadian Anglican priest Canon John Gibaut is director). “They appreciated that we were quite honest about our situation. We weren’t just presenting our polished face,” she said. “We acknowledged that particularly our relationships with aboriginal people and some of the other inequalities in Canadian life…do not represent people who have got it all together. But at the same time, we didn’t want to downplay that there is some exciting ecumenical work that we have accomplished here.”
The liturgy for the worship service created by the team includes a prayer that follows the practice of indigenous peoples in Canada of praying while facing different directions-east, south, west and north, as well as upward and downward.
The Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton, general secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC), told the Anglican Journal that Canada has the broadest national ecumenical council in the world. “Canada is one of the few places in the world where Roman Catholics are full and vibrant members of the national council; also, we have evangelical membership,” she said. The Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) has 25 member denominations, including Roman Catholic, Orthodox and seven evangelical denominations, she said, noting that the CCC represents more than 85 per cent of the Christians in Canada. She added that the current CCC president, Lt. Col. Jim Champ, is from the Salvation Army. “There has been lots of Anglicans and United Church and Catholics and Lutherans, but this is the first time there’s been a Salvation Army president, which is very exciting.”
Hamilton has been asked to preach in Rome at a service for English-language congregations known as Churches Together in Rome. The group includes three Roman Catholic congregations along with Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican, American Episcopalian, Baptist, Salvation Army and Footsteps congregations. Hamilton has also been invited to be a part of a service held by the rector of the Pontifical College in Rome.