The 2018 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will focus on freedom from slavery, with prayer topics that are of special importance to the Caribbean. These topics include the plight of Haitian refugees, human trafficking, violence, the debt crisis and credit union movement, strengthening families and colonial reconciliation.
Developed by an ecumenical team in the Caribbean, the theme for the week, “Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power” (Exodus 15:6), represents the abolition of enslavement in its many forms, according to background material included in the Week of Prayer resource booklet.
Exodus 15:1–21, the song of Moses and Miriam, was chosen as a motif because of its themes of triumph over oppression, it adds.
The choice of theme reflects the Caribbean’s colonized past, from the islands’ Indigenous inhabitants who were enslaved and, in some cases, exterminated, to the African slave trade and the “indentureship” of people from India and China. “The contemporary Caribbean is deeply marked by the dehumanizing project of colonial exploitation. In their aggressive pursuit of mercantile gains, the colonizers codified brutal systems which traded human beings and their forced labour,” says the Week of Prayer resource booklet for 2018.
“Very regrettably, during five hundred years of colonialism and enslavement, Christian missionary activity in the region, with the exception of a few outstanding examples, was closely tied to this dehumanizing system and in many ways rationalized and reinforced it. Whereas those who brought the Bible to the region used scriptures to justify the subjugation of a people in bondage, in the hands of the enslaved, it became an inspiration, an assurance that God was on their side, and that God would lead them to freedom.”
The chosen passage from Exodus also has resonance to the area because of its themes of overcoming oppression. It was adapted as a hymn, “The Right Hand of God,” at the Caribbean Conference of Churches in 1981 and “has become an ‘anthem’ of the ecumenical movement in the region,” the booklet explains.
The resources include an order of service for an ecumenical worship service to take place during the Week of Prayer, which includes the singing of “The Right Hand of God,” as well as the symbolic breaking of a chain. Worshippers will drop chains from their hands as a symbol of escaping enslavement. During a reading of intercessory prayers, they will link arms to form a “human chain,” transforming this symbol of oppression into one of hope and community.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began in 1908 as an observance of the Roman Catholic Church. It was adopted after the formation of the World Council of Churches in 1948 by many denominations. It traditionally takes place every year from January 18–25 in the northern hemisphere and during the Pentecost season in the southern hemisphere.