What Does “Visible Unity” Look Like?

In the mountains of Romania, nestled amidst chickens, peacocks, horses, dogs, and a lovely pair of domesticated rabbits, forty-five theologians, biblical scholars and church leaders have met together for the past week to talk about how to move together toward Eucharistic fellowship and the visible unity of the Church.

Representatives from Roman Catholic, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican, historic Peace churches, and for the first time an official representative from the Pentecostal tradition have come from thirty-one countries to talk together about the issues that divide our churches and to seek together ways to be the church together in the world.

In the midst of fragmentation, denominationalism, and a wide range of practices and beliefs among Christians around the world, the question of the “unity” of the Church has been an ongoing passion and concern for many Christians. Based in the belief that we are called to be one Church under Jesus Christ, one of the themes of the modern ecumenical movement has been to explore the question of how the churches might work together toward “visible unity.”

The World Council of Churches (WCC) Faith and Order Commission has taken a lead in bringing theological and ecclesial leaders of the churches together “to serve the churches as they call one another to visible unity in one faith and in one Eucharistic fellowship, expressed in worship and common life in Christ, through witness and service to the world, and advance towards that unity in order that the world may believe.”

This past week we have met together to develop the work of Faith and Order for the next eight years. This work, which is guided by the overarching theme of “Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace,” will continue work on the recently developed convergence document “The Church: Towards a Common Vision” as well as work on the question of “Moral Discernment in the Churches.” In addition, we are developing new work on the question of “The church on a pilgrimage of justice and peace in today’s world,” which will take up new questions for Faith and Order related to how to live the gospel in a pluralistic world.

The world is always changing and the church grows and changes in response to the spiritual and material needs of the people of God. The work of the WCC and of Faith and Order in bringing representatives together from the Church around the world to talk together about our common faith and commitments is a meaningful way that helps to facilitate the work and life of the Christian community.

I close with a prayer from one of our prayer services and invite you to use this in your church on Sunday and ask you to lift up prayers for the work of Faith and Order and the work of the WCC as we move forward together on a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace.

May the Lord God,
Bless us and protect us,
Fill our heart with tenderness and our soul with joy,
our ears with music and our nostrils with perfume,
our tongue with song giving face to hope.
May Jesus Christ the living water be
Behind us to protect us,
Before us to guide us,
By our side to accompany us,
Above us to bless us.
May the life-giving Spirit
Breathe into us that our thoughts may be holy,
Act in us so that our work is holy,
Draw our heart so that we love what is holy.
May God make a home in our heart,
Water its dryness, and melt down its coldness,
Kindle in our innermost soul the fire of his love
And bestow upon us a true faith and firm hope, and a sincere and perfect love.

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