Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity involves Christian communities across the world and from almost every denomination.

White doves in flight

Doves, representatives of peace and the Holy Spirit ©

The materials used in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity are prepared each year jointly by the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

It is traditionally celebrated over the eight days of 18-25 January, although other dates are sometimes chosen in the Southern hemisphere.

The Week lasts for 8 days (which is why it was originally called an Octave of Prayer), and covers the period from the feast of St Peter to the feast of St Paul.

The theme for 2008 is taken from 1 Thessalonians 5: 17 "Pray without ceasing".


The Week developed from an Octave of Prayer devised in 1908 by the American Episcopalian clergyman Paul Wattson, and Spencer Jones, the Vicar of Moreton-in-Marsh in England.

Wattson (who became a Roman Catholic in 1909) believed that Christian unity could only be achieved by the other churches returning to the Roman Catholic fold.

The Week was given a wider remit in the 1930s through the work of a French Roman Catholic, Paul Couturier, who did not believe that it was necessary for all Christians to become Roman Catholics. He taught that "we must pray not that others may be converted to us but that we may all be drawn closer to Christ".

The Week is now a joint project of the Roman Catholic church and the World Council of Churches, and has been since 1966.


The Week is motivated by the wish to fulfil God's desire "that all may be one". This is clearly shown in this prayer:

...I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you... May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.John 17

If you ask Christians why they take part in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, their answers are likely to include some of these points:

  • A common desire to communicate God's love to all the world
  • Accepting that God's ultimate purpose is to unite all things in Christ
  • Obedience to the prayer of Jesus Christ "That all might be one" (John 17:21) and that "There might be one flock and one shepherd." (John 10:16)
  • Acknowledgement that Christ is the only one who can reconcile all things and people, and that Christ's people must pray for this reconciliation
  • Desire to show the Church as foretaste, instrument and sign of the unity of God's Kingdom
  • Acceptance that the Christian Church can only be the Church that God intended if all churches acknowledge their mutual interdependence
  • Desire to demonstrate a unity that is sometimes hidden by denominational differences through the act of praying together
  • Desire to achieve unity in a way that enriches rather than diminishes the legitimate diversity of local churches

Many people see it as their duty to pray not just for the unity of Christians but for the unity of all people who are made in God's image.

About this article

This page was last updated 2006-01-12

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