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 The Presbyterian Church in Canada • presbyterian.ca ISSUE 15, FALL 2020
Walking and Praying Toward Unity
By the Rev. Amanda Currie, Moderator of the General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada
This summer I walked about 930 km while praying for The Presbyte- rian Church in Canada and for our ecumenical par tners in the Canadian Council of Churches (1 km for each ministry). Over a hundred Presbyte- rians across the country walked and prayed with me, and we grew in love for the church and for each other as we shared a pilgrimage of prayer. When I came up with the idea of walking and praying all summer, I didn’t really have Christian unity in mind as the goal, but along the way I experienced a sense of growing communion across the church.
Ecumenism is a ministry that has as its goal the reconciliation and unity that Jesus desires for the Christian church. But it turns out that there isn’t just one way of getting to that unity, and so the ministry of ec- umenism has become multifaceted with a variety of ways of engaging in this work. You may be familiar with the classic division between “faith and order” ecumenism and “life and work” ecumenism as is evident in the ministry of the World Council of Churches, for example.
The first involves theological dialogue about aspects of faith, doctrine, polity and related topics; while the second focuses on what the whole church can do together
in service to the poor, justice and peace, stewardship and other Chris- tian work. In some cases, when progress on questions of faith and order has been difficult, church leaders have put the emphasis on life and work ecumenism, trusting
that our unity will grow when we work together in care and concern for the world.
However, ecumenism is more complex than those two categories. The Prairie Centre for Ecumenism, where I served as a Presbyterian
board member for many years, un- derstood its purpose “to call the churches to visible unity in one faith and in one Eucharistic fellow- ship expressed in worship and in common life in Christ, through wit- ness and service to the world, and
to advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe.” The Centre then identified several tasks as its mission, encompassing various aspects of the ecumenical endeavour: dialogue and common study; ecumenical education and formation; common mission; com- mon witness; and prayer, preaching and worship.
Although each aspect of ecu- menical work is important, com- mon prayer has always been my favourite. Perhaps that’s because my primary vocation is to be a pas- tor rather than a theologian. But I think another reason is that com- mon prayer, or what is also called “spiritual ecumenism,” is the foun- dation for theological dialogue. Spiritual ecumenism needs to begin from a place of respect and care for the other and an openness to en- gage with them in prayer. There is a cer tain amount of vulnerability in praying together. But spiritual ecu- menism can take place before we have all our theological differences worked out.
In a study on “The Nature and Purpose of Ecumenical Dialogue,” the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches sug- gests that prayer is considered “the basis and suppor t” for dialogue. It observes that, “Our common com- mitment to Christian unity requires not only prayers for one another but a life of common prayer,”1 so that Christians not only should be pray- ing for each other, but also with each other.
Sometimes, spiritual ecumen- ism includes experiencing each other’s liturgies and diverse worship and prayer forms, as we welcome one another in love. Other times, it includes the use of ecumenical prayer forms that do not belong to one par ticular Christian tradition, for example using the resources pre- pared jointly every year by the World Council of Churches and the Vatican for the Week of Prayer for Christian
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