Breaking boundaries

Over the last few years we have held a short service of ‘Prayers for Unity’ in the chapel at the Focolare Centre for Unity. This took place every Monday evening before the Anglican Eucharist and the Catholic Mass. Therefore the prayers were ecumenical and were a moment of unity before we split into two groups. In March 2020 the pandemic struck in GB and we went into lockdown. This meant no more prayers for unity or Eucharist/Mass. Or did it?

We decided to have the prayers for unity online via zoom. It would be a simple formula. Mary and Paul Gateshill would host the event and invite others to lead the prayers each week. The formula was fairly straight forward and would usually include a short reflection, followed by prayers ending with the Lord’s Prayer and some music. Contributors were able to mix the order or introduce new elements as long as it was no more than 20 minutes long.  It started as an experiment with just 20-30 members of the local community joining in. However, the news spread by word of mouth. Zoom enabled the event to move from local to global – from Anglican/Roman Catholic to multi-denominational within a few months. Now there are between 60-100 links each week involving not just England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland but also USA, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Belgium, Holland, France and Italy. Churches represented include: Russian Orthodox, Finnish Orthodox, Swedish Lutheran,United Reformed, United Church of Christ, Moravian, Methodist, Baptist, Salvation Army, Evangelical, Roman Catholic and Anglican. Each week a different community or individual provides the input to the service. This has included bishops from different Churches, priests, religious, lay people, families, focolares and so on. Some know the Focolare well and others are new. Those new to Focolare are often overwhelmed by the diversity of Churches and nationalities represented.

What people have said:

Six o’clock on a Monday is now a very special time of the week. The variety of styles, themes and topics has been a great enrichment, and it has been a real experience of learning, and receiving gifts from each other. You never know what you’re going to get, but you always know you’re going to get God. What we love is that in prayer we are all equal in front of God and our denominations and nationalities aren’t divisive tribal identities but sources of delight in the diversity of an inclusive, self-selecting family, which is consciously open to the Communion of Saints as well. We act as instruments of peace for one another simply by being together in prayer, although the focus for prayer is away from ourselves towards the unity and peace that God desires for the world. We have invited several friends to join in, and they have felt ‘at home’ and appreciative. The profound unity amongst us is not a concept nor an affectation but a real presence, a miracle of the ‘consecration of technology’ in God’s service. The discipline of precise timing for start and finish is also a gift; and the inevitability of some technical hitches and connection issues, from time to time, reminds us of the imperfect, broken, flawed state of affairs that we are lifting to God in prayer. (M&K)