‘Be-Longing: Praying for Unity amidst Injustice’ is the theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (WPCU) 2023.
“As we join with other Christians around the world for this year’s Week of Prayer we pray that our hearts will be open to see and hear the many ways in which racism continues to destroy lives, and to discern the steps we can take as individuals and communities to heal the hurts and build a better future for everyone.” General Secretary, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Dr Nicola Brady.
All the resources for 2023 have been made available as downloads below and also at this link on the Churches Together in Britain & Ireland (CTBI) website https://ctbi.org.uk/resources-for-week-of-prayer-for-christian-unity-2023/
Do Good & Seek Justice
This year’s resources are inspired by the experience of our Christian sisters and brothers who are wrestling with the issue of how racism creates a divided society and a divided world. We pray for Christian unity when Christians are part of unjust and racist structures. For the churches of the US State of Minnesota, the murder of George Floyd and the institutional racism it embodied provide the focus for their prayer for unity and justice. They place before us the prophet Isaiah’s challenge to do good and seek justice (Isaiah 1:17).
Our world today mirrors the challenges that Isaiah confronted. Justice, righteousness and unity originate from God’s profound love for each of us. They are at the heart of who God is and how God expects us to be with one another. Yet injustice and oppression continue. The sin of racism is evident in practices that set one racial group over and against another. When accompanied or sustained by imbalances of power, racial prejudice moves beyond the individual to take up residence in the structures of society.
The prophet Isaiah calls us to learn to do good and requires us to decide to engage with the issues.
Prayer, Reflection and Action
During this week we are challenged to engage in self-reflection. Praying together allows us to reflect on what unites us and enables us to commit ourselves to confront all instances of oppression and injustice. Undertaking this commitment requires churches to acknowledge their own complicity in racial injustice.
We need to recognise how our silence has allowed other voices to sound out without challenge. As Christians we must be willing to disrupt systems of oppression and advocate for justice. Our commitment to each other requires us to engage in restorative justice (mishpat). We need to speak out, dismantle unjust structures and create a society in which people can live with freedom and dignity. We must engage in dialogue and so increase awareness and insight about the lived experience of all people.
Together, we must engage in the struggle for justice in society – because we all belong to Christ.
Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, through the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, stands in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the United States by reflecting upon racism in our own context.
Resources for the journey
In the Pamphlet produced for this year’s theme: ‘Be-Longing: Praying for Unity amidst Injustice’ the text for each day offers a Commentary, followed by a Reflection, Prayer, Questions for you to consider, and some suggested ‘Go and Do’ Actions.
You can download the Pamphlet WPCU-2023-English-pamphlet-web.pdf.pages in A5 Booklet format (Please note: this is a large file – see download guide) * This is designed to be printed as an A5 booklet on A4 paper (please see the printing help from 2013) but can also be printed as A4 (in Adobe Acrobat Reader, choose File/Print, then under Size Options select ‘Fit’). For a Large Print version print the pamphlet as A4 (see above).
You can also download and print the Pamphlet as a Word Document in A4 format WPCU-2023-English-accessible-text-only.
Day 1 – Made in the Image and Likeness of God
We give them names:
some more welcome than others.
But you know their human names
because they are your kin,
stamped with your image,
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.
Go and do
Take time to learn about a culture/language/nation of which you know nothing, or very little. Learn as much as you can about those people and, if at all possible, learn more directly from a person or persons from that group.
Include a different language in the worship of your church at your next service – it may be even more effective if no one in your congregation understands it!
Look back in the news from 10 years ago to find a group of people who were endangered at that time. Find out what their situation is now and how you, your church or group of churches could support them and/or learn from them.
Day 2 – That they may be one
Jesus prays that we will be “completely one”, praying for an authentic and selfless unity, one with no half measures, reflected in the person of God, in the unity of the Trinity. Such unity is challenging, it requires self-reflection, humility, a release of power and control, and an openness to change. Is this the unity that you are praying for this week?
Learning to do good also requires an openness to change. This is the perfect season for Christians to reflect not just on unity but on the role we can all play together in promoting racial justice.
To seek justice is to create space for God’s just ordering and enduring wisdom in a world all too often unmoved by suffering.
Put down your burden,
release the load of others.
Rescue, defend, and plead as one,
in my name, seek justice together.
God of Unity,
forgive us when we are self-serving
and help us to grow in unity and understanding
as we extend your love and justice to all.
Go and Do – suggestions:
Consider trying a devotional tool or app from another tradition. Pray that God will give you the humility and openness of heart to be open to receive something new from the tradition.
What social justice or local outreach projects are active in your area and led by those from a different tradition or background to you? Find out and get involved.
Join the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Prayer Cycle praying with people from all around the world.
Day 3 – Difference
We can recognise the diversity within our communities if we take time to look.
God has shown us what is good through our interconnectedness. We are blessed and we are to bless others. We are loved and we are to love others. We are to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God, together. We. Not Me. Our kinship and God’s teachings guide us into community together as we learn and act as We. Not Me.
So our gatherings, prayers, art and culture should reflect this, and be infused with the beauty of difference, all the while reaching toward the unity of God’s divine justice.
A tapestry is a beautiful work of art, but if you look at the back, you see the messy edges, and frayed ends, the knots and snags – how do we celebrate the beauty of the tapestry while acknowledging the work that is necessary to maintain the beauty, not as a façade, but as a result of recognising and celebrating difference?
… in the midst of our din,
God calls forth
from each corner of this earth,
songs of justice that roll down like waters –
interwoven melody and haunting harmony
deep enough to hold our dissonance
and the unresolved tension
of our journeys to this place.
Gracious and loving God,
expand our vision
that it may be wide enough
to recognise the beautiful complexity
of the tapestry you chose to weave
with each and every one of us.
Gather our frayed edges,
our loose ends
and bind us together for your glory.
Go and Do – suggestions:
Meet people from another community and share stories together.
Invite people from another community to help you to reflect on how you can act as ‘We. Not Me’.
Identify some different groups within your community and reflect on how you might pray and work ‘with’ them, rather than ‘for’ them.
Day 4 – Lament
Lament is a hard practice to embrace. Our society wants us to rush towards positivity and victory. What does it mean to truly lament? To sit with the pain. Lament demands that we open ourselves, it demands from all of us, that we no longer ignore the pain.
“Lament is a protest so deep that it must become a prayer, for only God can provide needed hope that justice will prevail and that the future will be different.”
Rachel’s Cry: Prayer of Lament and Rebirth of Hope, Kathleen D Bilman and Daniel L Migliore, The Pilgrim Press 1999
God of justice and of grace,
remove the scales from my eyes so
I can truly see the oppression around me,
and give me courage not only to name it,
but to fight it while providing authentic presence,
witness, and compassion to the oppressed.
Go and Do suggestions:
Sit and reflect, lament the pain you have noticed in your community (when it gets uncomfortable, stay for a while longer).
Who do you need to move closer to in order to hear their pain?
Connect with some people on the margins in your community to learn about their narrative of history and its consequences. What steps can you take to be a truth-teller of history?
Day 5 – Holy rage
Even when the victims of oppression are encouraged to tell their stories they often find that people are only willing to listen to their pain and sadness, but draw back when they articulate angry demands for change.
Martin Luther King Jr said: “…in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard…. our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay [on justice]” He understood that the path to true peace lies in the healing of relationships through the work of justice, addressing the barriers that keep people from feeling included as full members of the community.
Are we truly ready to listen to the experiences of those who have been oppressed? Are we open to their tears but defensive against their anger? How might God be calling us to act to address the suffering that prompts this rage?
You ate their meagre fare
you drank from their cup
and then you showed no remorse
As surely as the Lord lives
no justice, no peace
We chew up their stories
we pollute their wells
and then we show no remorse
As surely as the Lord lives
no justice, no peace
Turn our tables
set a place for everyone
disrupt our comfortable seats
drive us out
hungry for justice
thirsting for peace
As surely as the Lord lives
no justice, no peace
God of the oppressed, open our eyes to the harm that continues to be inflicted on our siblings in Christ. Give us the courage to stand up and advocate for all who are silenced, even if it means releasing some of our own privilege to do justice.
Go and Do some suggestions:
- Research opportunities to participate virtually in global gatherings to raise awareness of situations of injustice, connecting with people across borders and cultures.
- Identify a group in your local area that is working to address the exclusion or stigma that can leave people feeling unheard or unseen, and support one of their events or initiatives.
- Consider using social media, or other personal networks, to share examples from around the world of people who are courageously speaking out to challenge injustice.
Day 6 – Walking humbly in the way
Scripture reminds us that we cannot separate our love for God from our love for others. We love God when we feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the prisoner. When we care for and serve “one of the least of these,” we are caring for and serving Christ himself.
But we are called to go beyond giving or serving from a position of power, where we maintain our status above the person to whom we are ministering. How are we to emulate Jesus who, though he was Lord of all, became truly the servant of all? What is power, and how are we to use it and to share it in the work of God?
God calls us to honour the sacredness and dignity of each member of God’s family. Caring for, serving and loving others reveals not who they are, but who we are. As Christians, we must be unified in our responsibility to love and care for others, as we are cared for and loved by God. In so doing, we live out our shared faith through our actions in service to the world and we find our true calling as servants of the Servant King.
Yours are the power and the glory.
Yet we see your greatest greatness
when you stoop to serve.
Creator, give us the power
to be powerless
and bestow on us the dignity
of the servant rich in love.
Lord of the power and the glory,
you became for us the servant of all.
Show us the power and the glory of servanthood
and enable us to minister to your world
according to its needs and our abilities.
Go and Do – some suggestions:
- What power do you have? Put that power to use for the service of others.
- Find three ways in which the churches in your area could serve your community. And act on those things!
- Agree as a group of churches on a project that empowers people locally, nationally or internationally, and form an action plan to put that into practice.
Day 7 – Agency
Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes begins with Jesus seeing the crowds. In that crowd he must have seen those who were peacemakers, the poor in spirit, the pure in heart, men and women who mourned, and those who hungered for justice. In the Beatitudes Jesus not only names people’s struggles, he names what they will be: the children of God and inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven.
If we listen hard enough, we will hear a diversity of voices crying out under the weight of oppression. Action is needed today to bring love, hope, justice and liberation for us and others in the future. Oppression of any kind demands that each of us chooses to engage in order to eradicate the injustice(s) that break our hearts open.
In prayer we align our hearts with the heart of God, to love what God loves and to love as God loves. Prayer with integrity therefore aligns and unites us – beyond our divisions – to love what, whom and how God loves, and to express this love in our actions.
Let us all work together with God in our hope and commitment to shut injustice’s mouth and eradicate oppression in all areas of our society.
I see you there,
You – blessed ones,
You – poor in spirit,
You – mourners, meek ones and merciful ones.
I hear your stomachs rumble with hunger.
Is righteousness enough to satiate your thirst,
like rain upon the earth?
You have had your fill of the schemes of crafty ones,
been force fed so-called wisdom by the wily.
With pure and undivided hearts
you train your eyes upon God’s cause – to lift high the perceived lowly,
to bring to safety any who are in danger of being trampled
by pride-filled footsteps of trespassers,
or stabbed by weaponised words hell-bent on cutting down and dehumanising.
Shut the mouth of injustice, God,
tear down the strongholds of the power-hungry
and give us the desire and the strength
to rebuild a realm
where all who are wounded are brought comfort,
where the inheritance is shared by all,
where swords and shields are beaten
into tools for sowing peace and reconciliation,
where healing abounds
and mouths open to sing stories of shared blessing and hope.
God of justice,
Empower us to be agents of your grace and mercy.
Bless us with the courage to relinquish our power.
Bless us with the humility to stand with the oppressed.
Bless us with the integrity to love our neighbours as we ourselves would seek to be loved.
Go and Do – some suggestions:
- Try volunteering for a local community organisation.
- Where do you see people being denied agency in your local community? Explore ways to take action that raises awareness.
- In the work of international development there is increasing recognition of the need to address the legacy of injustice and exploitation and restore to marginalised communities the power to make decisions about their own future. Explore ways to help further this work through your giving and advocacy.
Day 8 – Restoring hope through the work of justice
In facing up to the harm caused by racial injustice, we hold before us the promise of God’s love and the healing of relationships. The Prophet Isaiah speaks of God gathering and comforting all people who have been lost and have experienced suffering. In the Magnificat, Mary reminds us that God never abandons us and that God’s promise to us is fulfilled in justice.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Stephen was a young man growing up in south-east London with big dreams for his future. His life was tragically cut short when, on 22 April 1993, he was murdered in an unprovoked racist attack. The pain of his family and the wider community was compounded by serious failings in the investigation of this crime. Stephen’s mother, (Baroness) Doreen Lawrence, said:
“Justice for Stephen is about all of us, every one of us, in society having justice. There are still too many young people who do not have a sense of hope, who just don’t get the chance to live their dreams. I want all our children and young people to feel inspired, be confident and have hope in their own future. We are building hope, but there is more to do.”
It is easy to feel hopeless as we are time and again reminded that we live in a fractured society that does not fully recognise, honour, and protect the human dignity and freedom of all human beings. An alignment of love of God, love of all our human family and love of justice are deeply needed for hope and healing. God calls us to continually live into hope, trusting that God will be with us in the midst of our individual and communal liminal space – on the threshold of what has been and what is, while yearning for what is yet to be.
Fr Bryan Massingale, one of the world’s leading Catholic social ethicists and scholars in racial justice, reminds us of his hope and challenge:
“Social life is made by human beings.
The society we live in is the result of human choices and decisions.
This means that human beings can change things.
What humans break, divide and separate,
we can with God’s help,
also heal, unite and restore.
What is now does not have to be.
Therein lies the hope and the challenge.”
please teach us to go inward
to be grounded in your loving spirit
so we can go outward in wisdom and courage
to always choose the path of love and justice.
Go and Do – some suggestions:
- Racial justice will only take root in churches if they take the issue seriously. What tangible changes could your church make to connect to the global movement for racial justice?
- Racial Justice Sunday is marked annually on the second Sunday in February. Encourage your church to celebrate this day, which is committed to fighting for justice, equality and dignity in church and society.
- Stephen Lawrence wanted to become an architect. Why not mentor or support a teenager like Stephen, so that she or he will be able to realise their dreams.
Note: The text for this article has been extracted and adapted from the Pamphlet prepared by the Churches in Minneapolis for this year’s theme. See https://cte.org.uk/wpcu-2023/
An International version
The versions above for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2023 have been adapted by the Britain and Ireland writers group. An international version is also available from the World Council of Churches (WCC) website: Week of Prayer 2023 International Version
In relation ot the final day of the octave of Prayer for Christian Unity also see https://presentationsistersne.ie/restoring-hope-through-justice/