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Week of prayer for Christian Unity



About ten years ago I was a priest in Longsight in the diocese of Manchester. Longsight is a diverse area with many different nationalities but the predominant faith tradition is Islam. Within the parish there were then about 7 different mosques and Islamic centres and we had good relationships with many of them. One in particular became a very close partner – so much so that we were able to sign an agreement between the church and the mosque to work together for the good of the community as much as possible. We had arranged a big do – a party and a formal signing of the agreement; bishop, imam, and Christians and Muslims gathered together. All went well until the eleventh hour when I received a phone call from the diocesan office asking if I could change the wording. It was actually a simple change but one which caused some panic, and not a little embarrassment.

Our posh printed certificate ready for signing said that we acknowledged our significant differences of faith but also pledged to serve the community according to our ‘common understanding of the oneness of God’. The frantic phone call asked us to add one letter, ‘s’, so that we would say our ‘common understandings of the oneness of God’.

Looking back it now makes sense. I am certain that there was – and is – more than one understanding of the oneness of God. But it caused a delay in signing, a quick reprinting, and a great deal of discussion.

That was an inter-faith event but during this week of prayer for Christian unity it reminds me of sensitivities, courtesies, and indeed the muddied waters which we often find ourselves in when it comes to ecumenism. Working with people of other traditions does require a great deal of care. It can be hard work and it is because it is sometimes complicated by our regulations, rules, and the imagined barriers that it is all too easy to put it to one side, the bottom of the list, the nice add-on which feels good when possible. And yet we shall pray this week especially that we have grace, courage and commitment to hear the prayer of our Lord, that we might all be one. Ecumenism ought to be more than a one-week-in-a-year focus, it ought to be a passionate prayer that we might seek unity through love.

The big problem for us when we tried to sign the agreement between the church and mosque was a doctrinal one – it was a complex, important, and fundamental question about what we believe. I would not want to suggest that we should take such things lightly or without serious thought. But all too often we prevent ourselves from drawing closer together as churches because of the less important, cosmetic differences.

Let me finish with an example which is both simple and universal. Across the diocese today the Lord’s prayer will be said in at least three different versions. And that is just the English language versions authorised by General Synod. Our Father in heaven, Our Father which art in heaven, Our Father who art in heaven: and that is just the first line. You will have your favourite form of words. There has been a great deal of work to try to standardise these texts – the common texts of our Christian faith, across the denominations, but we do choose that which suits us best in our own tradition.

Such differences speak of who we are, how we are nurtured and formed as Christians, and the comfort which prayer brings to us. And yet we pray one prayer which comes from one Lord. Add in a few thousand different languages and we have a myriad voices praying to one Father, through one Lord, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the week of prayer for Christian unity we might think carefully about what matters most in our common understanding of the love of God shown to us in Jesus Christ. What matters, what hinders, what are the barriers which you have put up in my own mind, rather than allowing us, for this week especially, to glimpse something of the vastness of God’s kingdom, and the glorious diversity of the Church family into which you, me, all of us, have been baptised.


  • What do you struggle with when you fail to value Christian traditions other than your own?
  • How might you learn to value difference in such a way that you glimpse the wonder and glorious diversity of the Church of God?
Page last updated: Tuesday 18th January 2022 8:39 AM
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