The church calendar observes the Confession of St. Peter on January18th and the Conversion of St. Paul on January 25th each year.
Peter is the first one to name Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” and is traditionally associated with those of the emerging Christian community who were of Jewish heritage.
Paul’s dramatic conversion from persecutor of the Christian community to one of its most prolific defenders and proclaimers to the larger world is traditionally associated with those of the Christian community who were of Gentile heritage.
In 1908, one of the Graymoor Friars (a monastic community based to this day in Garrison, New York) proposed observing the week between the two dates as a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Roman Catholic Church adopted the theme and it subsequently became part of the life of the World Council of Churches.
In the mid-1960’s, conversations about striving for Christian unity were particularly active and visible. I can recall taking part in many dialogues and shared worship services. In many Christian circles, there was a sense that all Christians could and should share more deeply in what they have in common. Looking back now, it seems idealistic, but a certain level of institutional idealism was in many respects characteristic of the era. Today, I don’t see much enthusiasm for the kind of structural vision of Christian unity which some thought might emerge.
However, the fundamental reality is that Christians are outwardly divided into a remarkable number of different Christian structures. As a result, the impact of Christian congregations and institutions can be minimized rather than maximized.
I think part of the problem is that we can confuse “uniformity” with “unity.” I am not interested in seeking some “uniform” way by which the Christian community is proclaimed in the world. Rather, I look for opportunities for a deeper kind of “unity” in the midst of the many different ways the Christian message is proclaimed. People of faith are diverse, and I think our real unity comes from embracing our diversity and seeing God at work in that diversity.
What we all share is coming to a deeper knowledge of God and of the meaning and purpose of our lives by being exposed to and proclaiming the good news of the gospel in diverse ways.
I invite us to give thanks for the diversity of Christian communities and engage with one another in the name of the Christ, whose love for us all is manifest again and again, all our lives long.