While Christians around the world took part in an eight-day observance of prayer for visible Christian unity Jan. 18-25, religious leaders from 14 different faith groups in the Valley gathered for a joint prayer service Jan. 23 at Shepherd of the Hills United Church of Christ in Phoenix.
Among those attending were Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares of Phoenix and Bishop John S. Pazak of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Phoenix. The week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an international Christian ecumenical observance with a history more than 100 years old. The service — sponsored by the Arizona Faith Network — drew its theme of “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue” (Cf. Dt 16:18-20).
“With Christ as our head, each of our churches is a part of the Body of Christ. By the grace given to each of us let everyone among us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned,” said the Rev. Dr. William Lyons, conference minister of the United Church of Christ’s Southwest Conference in his reflection. “Let our love be genuine. And let us walk the path into unity by doing the kind of justice together.”
By promoting an ecumenism based on the Holy Spirit, he said there could be unity in dialogue and action, and likened Christians working together to a board game. But instead of the usual competitive game like Parcheesi, which he brought from his grandmother’s house, he said there’s a new kind of board game his grandchildren are learning called, cooperative games, that instill “the values and joy of cooperation, of experiencing win/win outcomes” and to build the mindset that comes naturally to children of seeking the common good.
Lyons then wondered aloud what might happen if “Maricopa County were to see us — every last one of us — showing up, speaking out, and taking a leading role in moments in moments when some serious reordering of social life and power are in order on behalf of marginalized people in our community.”
He challenged fellow colleagues to another meeting on March 21 to “continue our prayer for Christian unity by embarking on the path of justice-doing together.”
Following the service Bishop Nevares handed out a book, “John 17: The Heart of God,” which he and Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted personally contributed to on the issues of tolerance and mutual love rooted in Jesus Christ.
The title of the book is based the testament and final prayer of Jesus Gospel passage — that all “may be one” (Jn 17:11) — which is the goal of the book, to help illuminate Jesus’ prayer for unity.
“For in Christ there is no north or south or east or west, but we are all one. And so it will be in heaven,” said Bishop Nevares, adding that he gets a glimpse of “heaven” each time he participates in an ecumenical service. “The more we unite now, the more we will experience heaven on earth, then truly the world will believe.”
Alysha Berger, a Parish Ecumenical and Interreligious Representative (PEIR) from St. Theresa Parish, attended the evening service with her husband.
“As churches unified by our baptism, we stand united in our commitment to love our neighbor as ourselves and to show welcome to the oppressed as He taught us. We stand united to face this challenge and speak up in the face of injustice.”
To bring good news to the poor: God our Father, free us from the temptation to oppress others. By your Holy Spirit of communion, help us to live in solidarity with our neighbor, and share together with your Son Jesus in fulfilling your promise. #WPCU2019 https://t.co/xk3B8JFZkj pic.twitter.com/hfewPzZSXp
— US Catholic Bishops (@USCCB) January 22, 2019
Berger’s group meets quarterly to discuss ways local diocesan parishes can respond to the Second Vatican Council’s call for greater dialogue between — and tolerance of — different faith traditions.
“When we come together and focus on our similarities instead of focusing on our differences, we build trust; trust builds friendship and friendship builds unity,” Berger said.
Shirley Lowman, a PEIR from St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, echoed her sentiments by saying, “When people understand that all people have many of the same hopes and fears, it is so much easier to fight for equality and justice for everyone.”
Let your words be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”: God of righteousness, grant us wisdom to distinguish right from wrong. Let our hearts be guided by honesty and our lips speak the truth. Make us agents of unity and peace, spreading good news for all. #WPCU2019 https://t.co/xk3B8JFZkj pic.twitter.com/IOIvTL1Z6E
— US Catholic Bishops (@USCCB) January 19, 2019