Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2015
A hot and dusty day, a stranger stops at a well for a drink. A meeting with an inquisitive woman becomes a turning point and a transformative one. It is a meeting where old suspicions, hurts and hatreds are never far away: a Jew and a Samaritan discuss what divides them. It is a meeting where ancient conventions around gender inequality are unexpectedly challenged.
Could this have been avoided? No, for Jesus was compelled to go through Samaria and in that journey he encountered a woman by a well where he asked her for a drink.
Conversations such as these have the potential to change people and how they view one another. One of the most important things we can say about our ecumenical life together is how our pilgrimage together has transformed and deepened our faith and also changed how we view our Christian sisters and brothers from other churches and traditions. Can this journey be avoided? No, because we too are called by God to travel in this direction.
The churches of Brazil have given us a powerful image for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, one that reminds us of what we have learnt on our ecumenical journey, but one that challenges us to go deeper in our understanding of one another as we pray for unity of all Christians as Christ himself prayed.
Revd Bob Fyffe, General Secretary, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland
Introduction to this year’s theme
This year’s theme comes to us from the churches of Brazil. Brazilians, who have traditionally been tolerant of their various social classes and ethnic groups, are now living through a time of growing intolerance made manifest in high levels of violence, especially against minorities and the vulnerable – black people, the young, homosexual people, people practising Afro-Brazilian religion, women and indigenous people.
The logic that undergirds this kind of behaviour is competition for the religious market. Increasingly, in Brazil, some Christian groups compete with one another for a place on the mass media, for new members and for public funds.
This situation has affected the life of traditional Christian confessions, which have experienced a reduction in their membership. It has encouraged the idea that a strong and dynamic church is a church that has a high number of members. As a result, there is a tendency among some traditional churches to distance themselves from the search for visible Christian unity.
This market-driven Christianity is investing in party politics and, in some cases, creating its own political parties. It is allying itself with specific interest groups such as big landowners, agro-business and the financial markets. Thus, the ecumenical logic of breaking down the walls of division is replaced by the protection of denominational interests.
Although the 2010 Census shows that 86.8% of the Brazilian population identify themselves as Christian, the country has very high rates of violence. A high rate of Christian affiliation does not seem to translate into a respect for human dignity.
The Brazilian churches have begun to recognise that intolerance should be dealt with in a positive way – respecting diversity and promoting dialogue as a permanent path of reconciliation and peace in fidelity to the gospel. We can share this recognition.
Although the competition between churches is less obvious in our islands than it is in Brazil, as is the level of violence against minorities, we are well aware that competition and violent discrimination lie beneath the surface of our lives together. Jesus challenges us to acknowledge that diversity is part of God’s design, to approach one another in trust and to see the face of God in the face of all men and women, whoever they may be.