WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Combined choirs formed the United Voices of Edmonton at the Jan. 22 service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
EDMONTON – Nothing that we do in love is ever wasted.
That was the central message of the Rev. Dr. Catherine MacLean, from St. Paul's United Church, when reflecting on the theme of this year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
"Rev. Larry Kochendorfer (an Evangelical Lutheran) reminded us that one of the things we have in common as Christians is our anxiety," said MacLean. "It is an acknowledgement of what we all feel, the fear that we have for our churches and ourselves. It brings us humility to acknowledge that we feel anxiety."
Through the blessings of one another, the love for one another, Christians can eradicate that anxiety and fear and, instead, find unity, said MacLean.
More than 100 people attended the evening prayer service, held Jan. 22 at Knox Metropolitan United Church.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – held Jan. 18 to 25 – has come a long way since Sister Rosaleen Zdunich organized the first one in Edmonton 21 years ago. She was the Catholic archdiocesan ecumenical officer at the time.
The interdenominational prayer service in 1992 was held at the basilica, but was just a "bare bones service" compared to now. A large crowd and all of the respective bishops were present, but there was no big choir as they have had in recent years.
This year's choir was called United Voices of Edmonton, comprised of the combined choirs of Robertson-Wesley United Church, Knox-Metropolitan United Church and Willan Chorale.
The theme for the prayer service was We Will All Be Changed. The change is that which comes from the victory of Jesus, as stated in 1 Corinthians 15.51-58.
"Victory for Christians of all denominations is in Jesus," said Anglican Bishop Jane Alexander. "But it's not a victory in the way the world sees it, and it's not a victory for who has the most people in their churches."
Participating in the service were Roman Catholics, Ukrainian Catholics, Anglicans, Evangelical Lutherans, Presbyterians, Quakers, Baptists and members of the United Church.
"I suspect the fact that there are some 38,000 denominations of Christians was not what Jesus had in mind," said Alexander.
Rev. Dr. Catherine MacLean
Through Jesus' victory, Christians undergo a transformation of unimaginable fullness and love, she said.
"No earthly victory, no doctrine and no dogma is as important as our identity as children of God," said Alexander.
To attain our victory in Christ involves longing for unity, and not just for one special week, but every single day. Today's disunity among Christians and the spiritual hunger of this age will convince fewer people of the victory of Jesus, she said.
She said that when Edmonton's faith community spoke with one voice on the issue of homelessness, it made a difference and the whole city could witness the victory of Christ.
"There are no shortcuts to Christian unity, only faithful prayer and service. But the reward is indeed greater than anything we could ask for," said Alexander.
Greeting the congregation was Julien Hammond, with the Edmonton District Council of Churches. Hammond is director of ecumenical and interfaith relations for the Edmonton Archdiocese. He also led the opening prayer.
Hammond said the material for this year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was prepared by a group composed of representatives of Christian churches in Poland.
Another Catholic representative, Pallotine Father George Neumann, led the prayers for unity and transformation.
Representatives from four different churches spoke during a segment of the service called, The Voices from the Churches. A common message among them was that all Christians are followers of Christ, a commonality regardless of denomination.
Dawn Parker represented the Religious Society of Friends. The Quakers are deeply steeped in Christianity, yet they have no creeds, dogmas, sacraments or professional clergy like most other churches, she said. They believe in the unmediated, immediate access to God.
The Church Unity Octave, a forerunner of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, was first observed in 1908. This movement caught the imagination of the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, gradually blossoming into a worldwide observance.
Individual churches held their own services to mark the week.