The service was part of the annual week-long Prayer for Christian Unity, a church tradition for more than a century. Pastors and speakers from several churches and several denominations gathered at St. Ann’s for a well-attended service.
Choirs from a half dozen churches performed, all of them part of a group of churches known as the Southeast Sussex County Ministerium. The basis for the service and the annual week of prayer and events is the idea of Christian Unity.
The Ministerium is involved in a number of common efforts, all designed to spread the word of Jesus, ranging from Crop Walks to Thanksgiving Prayer Services, Services for First Responders, the Service for Christian Unity, Lenten Soup, Salad and Prayer and Meet Me at the Manger, according to the group’s website.
Choirs that performed included Community Lutheran Church, Union Wesley United Methodist Church, Mariners Bethel United Methodist Church, Millville United Methodist Church, Ocean View Presbyterian Church and Saint Ann’s Contemporary Music Ensemble.
The effort to spread Christian Unity is based upon the phrase “that they may all be one” uttered by Jesus at the Last Supper, according to Pastor Pete Maurer of Frankford Presbyterian Church.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was first proposed in 1908 as an observance within the Catholic Church by Father Paul Wattson.
This year’s theme was “Justice, Only Justice You Shall Pursue,” which is taken from Deuteronomy 16: 18-20.
The processional hymn was “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy.”
As the procession approached the altar, participants carried not just a bible, but also a statue of Justice, seen as a lady with a sword in one hand and a set of scales in her other hand.
The program for the prayer service said “the reflections for the eight days and the worship service will be focused on the chosen theme. To deepen our reflection on unity and justice, the topic of each day has been carefully chosen to present struggles that result from injustice.”
Bruce Hobler of Ocean View Presbyterian Church offered a reflection on the Gospel from Luke 4. Hobler reminded the congregation that “justice (should be) neither denied or delayed.” Jesus said those claims for justice and fairness “are for now,” Hobler said.
A website on the week of Christian Unity, www.weekofprayer.ca/week-prayer-christian-unity, explains that “In the Gospel of John, Christ prays for his disciples before going to the cross. He asks that his followers “may all be one,” as he and the Father are one, “so that the world may believe” and have life in his name (John 17). Christian unity is here made central to the very being of the church and to its mission and witness.
Today, we live with divisions even as we yearn for the unity promised and commissioned by Christ, according to the week of prayer web site. The long and often painful history of Christianity has sundered our churches for theological, liturgical, and political reasons. Many Christians now strive to heal these divisions, yet honor our diversity, through ecumenical dialogue, common action, and relationship-building. They also come together to pray for unity, joining Christ in his prayer to the Father.
The worldwide celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is both the seed and the fruit of this striving for “unity in diversity. This time of shared prayer, reflection, and fellowship invites Christians of different traditions to deepen our relationships and to live and witness together throughout the year.”