The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17
A few thoughts on Jesus Prayer for Unity
Someone said that we pray for what we need. Jesus prayer here recorded in the Gospel of John is a prayer to heal a divided church. It is the prayer of the heart of Jesus that we may all be one even as Jesus and God are one. Jesus leaves us with this prayer for all time, in the midst of all conflict and dissension, in times when all is at peace and in times when there is violence.
A divided church is an abomination to the world outside the various communities to which we are a part. And yet we are often divided over our interpretations of the words of Jesus, our emphasis of law over mercy, inclusion or exclusion, grace over works or where we sit in church. Still the 11 o’clock hour is the most segregated hour in North America, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us. Let’s face it we are broken, divided and in the least, an embarrassment to the Jesus who prayed for us to be one.
And yet, in over forty years of ministry, I have found myself enlivened and informed by Ecumenical and Interfaith gatherings. Sure there are embarrassing moments, we make many missteps, yet to see the shining faces of our brothers and sisters across race, class, ethnicity, and religious preference worshipping our various ideas of the One Infinite and Omnipresent God, is a thing of real and rare beauty.
Early on in my ministry, Tess, my wife, received a call from the neighboring Roman Catholic priest. “He wants to get together to discuss the recent Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogues,” she told me. “Wow” I said, “This is the first time a Roman Catholic Priest has called me.” I returned the call.
Frank Cloherty is a Diocesan priest and served, at the time in a neighboring parish a stones throw or two away. Frank already had in his possession a curriculum for the dialogues and so we set a date for our two congregations to meet and begin the discussions. Not only were the materials informative and historically fair to us Anglicans, it was a joy to sit with Frank and members of his congregation along with representatives from our small Episcopal parish and start to know each other.
Frank and I became best buddies. Ten years my senior, we took monthly trips into the mountains of New Hampshire. Before our ascent we’d place a six pack of beer in a cool mountain stream at the base of the trail. It was our way to celebrate our hard and exhilarating trek up and over Lafayette, Moosilauke, Cannon and many others.
He was also from my original home town, the place I was now living with my pregnant wife, and daughter. His sister-in –law Winnie Cloherty was instrumental in the struggle to keep the extension for I-95 from slicing through our part of the city. She and others paved the way to what is now a green belt with high- speed transit to and from the inner city to the southern suburbs.
When our son Christopher was born with Down Syndrome, Frank came and celebrated at the church with Mark and Elizabeth Dyer,* while my wife and I, exhausted and still in shock, watched in a daze as our friends came to support us in the first days of our new life with our son.
It was not for our lack of trying that the dialogues didn’t bring about church unity. It was 1978 and women had recently been ordained into the Episcopal priesthood and Anglicans worldwide were just beginning to face the consequences of our more “progressive’ attitudes to a vast array of social issues. Nevertheless, Frank and I remained friends and so did some members of those two congregations.
And I remember Frank’s love of this section from the Gospel of John. For him and for others of us it was a kind of creed, an almost mystical way of holding the idea of the Church as One and all of us together as One. It is still the prayer of Jesus for the Church and for all of us whether we are appreciative or aware of it or not.
*Mark and Elizabeth Dyer were at the time pastoral assistants to the Bishop of Massachusetts. Elizabeth was ordained later and Mark was received from the Roman Catholic church and later became Bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem (PA)