But does it matter?
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: 18th – 25th January 2023
Our picture today recalls a wonderful occasion last Easter weekend, when hundreds of Christians of all denominations gathered on the steps of the Metropolitan Cathedral at the start of a Walk of Witness. Keen to put her best foot forward is Dean Sue, accompanied by Canon Bob, who were joined by leaders and members (including a wonderful choir) of many different churches. The procession made its vibrant and joyful way down through the centre of the city to the Waterfront, pausing for drama, singing and prayers as we did so. It was a brilliant and tangible sign of Christians coming together in common purpose and witness, seeking to celebrate Easter and to bless our city and region.
Today is the start of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Every year, Christians of all denominations are encouraged to come together visibly to re-establish our friendship and remind ourselves that Jesus prayed fervently that the Church that bears his name should be united. After all, he said, it is when people see how his followers love each other that the world will see Christ. That is some claim!
You might be forgiven for thinking that Jesus’ words were ‘pie in the sky’. Just look at how the church has fragmented, splintered and fallen out with itself over the centuries. Not a pretty sight at all. It would be so easy to become disillusioned and morose about the whole issue of Christian unity. Let’s face it, much of the world beyond the gates of most churches probably doesn’t care a great deal about our ‘internal’ disputes.
My plea to you, whether you consider yourself ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ the church is that it really does matter that Christians are united in common witness and purpose. The world needs us to be so. If there’s one thing that I’ve seen over the last year, it is that our spiritual life is vitally important to our well-being, contentment and fulfilment. Faith makes a real difference. When Christians from different background come together for worship and prayer, then ‘stuff’ happens. The years of quiet ‘under the radar’ meetings between senior Roman Catholic and Anglican leaders in Liverpool in the 1970s suddenly came to prominence in 1981 when the Bishop of Liverpool and Archbishop of Liverpool walked side-by-side through some of the most devastated streets in Toxteth, following days of civil unrest. In this city we live with the legacy of those courageous people. The regular joint services in both Cathedrals are a very visible sign of this, along with other events which draw in Christians from many denominations. In the last year, these have included the service for the Week of Prayer last January at the Met, the Vigil outside the Met last Spring praying for an end to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the Walk of Witness last Easter weekend (pictured), the celebrations in both Cathedrals for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, services to commemorate the death of Queen Elizabeth, and the tour of the relics of St. Bernadette. Much less visible are the frequent meetings between individual church leaders and other small-scale ecumenical gatherings. As church leaders, we are also brought together by charities that work closely with local churches, such as the Bible Society, Children’s Society and Open Doors. Let’s also remember the huge ‘value-added’ to our communities of the ecumenically-based Micah Liverpool charity with its foodbanks, community markets and volunteer programmes helping people back into work.
A key theme for this year’s Week is the impact of Christian unity around the world in seeking justice for the most marginalised and vulnerable, including racial justice, in all our communities. In doing so, we are celebrating both our common humanity and great diversity. If you would like to find out more, then please check out:
And if you would like to join our next joint service, then you are welcome at Liverpool Cathedral this Sunday (22nd) at 3 pm. We will be joined by friends from the Metropolitan Cathedral and other local churches. Or, if you live further away from the centre of Liverpool, you may wish to check out what ecumenical services and gatherings there are in your area this week.
I want to end this blog with the special prayer for today, as we start the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and encourage you to pray it and seek to live it out:
You made us, God,
in your own image,
and then became one of us,
proud of those you have made.
Make us proud of being part of that worldwide family,
and eager to discover and celebrate your image
in every person, every culture, every nation
that we are privileged to encounter. Amen.
With best wishes