The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity concludes this weekend. Initiated in 1968, this ecumenical movement gathers Christians for eight days of prayer for mutual respect and cooperation among churches, if not for their actual organic union. In fact, given two thousand years of often fractious division, “Christian unity” is a bit of an oxymoron: a state very much alive as a Christian ideal, but rarely found in practice.
This movement has lost momentum in recent years. This might be due in part to the increase in Christian divisiveness, even to the point of acrimonious schism. The Anglican Communion has been rocked by public rifts between conservative dioceses, primarily on the African Continent, and liberal Western dioceses over the issue of same-sex marriages. Meanwhile, within the Anglican Church of Canada congregations across the country have been turning either to Rome or to one of several evangelical church movements in reaction to recent changes here.
But there is another reason that ecumenism in general has waned. Seekers and believers alike have let go of denominational loyalty. When people choose a church it is likely to be one that meets the specific needs they are looking for, rather than one that wears a particular label. Christian unity is hard to achieve when we approach it from behind rigid lines of belief and practice. But regular folks, voting with their feet, are going wherever they are fed by the Gospel. And this just might be the unifying force we have been praying for!