At the Tuesday 12:10 service this week, we celebrated the Confession of St. Peter (a feast day, January 18). At the Tuesday 12:10 service next week, we will celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul (a feast day, January 25). With Peter representing the Catholic Church and Paul representing the Protestant Churches, the time between the two Holy Days has traditionally been known as the “week of Christian unity.” In what is an increasingly post-denominational world, where agreement on social issues has brought once very separate religious groups together (on both sides of the aisle) and where non-Christian faiths are an accepted and important part of the social structure and spiritual makeup of our society, the week of Christian unity seems a bit anachronistic. Most of our new members come other denominations – or no previous church connection at all. I tell them that I don’t think God is “brand loyal” and that all people are truly welcome here. However, though interfaith services like the one on Thanksgiving Eve and last Sunday’s celebration of Martin Luther King, which included Jewish, Muslim, Bahai, and Tibetan Buddhist as well as Christian speakers, are now considered normal, the our country is divided more than ever. The reality is that Jesus’ prayer “that we all would be one” (John 17:21) has yet to be answered and Jesus’ warning that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (Matthew 12:25) still remains.
On a hierarchal level, much of the ecumenical movement has been focused on denominational agreements about shared sacraments and shared ministry. On a local level, it has been embodied in interfaith clergy groups, worship services, and community service projects. If they are to be successful, Christian Unity and interfaith (and even inter-party) dialogue need to happen on a personal level. Reconciliation and repentance are made most real in relationships. The Confession of St. Peter and Conversion of St. Paul, remind us that a little confession might be needed for conversion to happen. Listening to and truly trying to understand someone who is different or whose views come from a different place can be challenging. If we can do that, we might just find that the week of Christian Unity still has meaning, and discover our own part in making Jesus’ prayer come true.