Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,
We are in the midst of The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The observance, actually an “octave” of eight days, began on January 18 with the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter. It will end on January 25, the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. These dates were first proposed by Father Paul Wattson, co-founder of the Graymoor Franciscan Friars in 1908. Today, the World Council of Churches works with Christian denominations around the globe in support of the observance. There is strong support of the initiative from the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, an arm of the Vatican.
Each year, Christians in one part of the world are asked to take the lead in developing a theme and material for the particular year’s observance. For the 2023 observance, the Minnesota Council of Church, USA was selected. Following their initial meetings, they were joined by international representatives, meeting in Switzerland in 2021. The determination that Minnesota should take the lead for the 2023 observance was, in part, because “Minnesota has had some of the worst racial disparities in the United States.” The authors of this year’s observance write:
The history of mistreatment of communities of colour [sic] in the United States has created longstanding inequities and relational rifts between communities. Consequently, the history of the churches in the United States includes racial issues as a major factor of ecclesial division. In other parts of the world, other non-doctrinal issues play a similar role. That is why the theological work on unity done by the World Council of Churches’ Commission on Faith and Order has traditionally sought to hold together the search for the churches’ unity and the search for overcoming walls of separation within the human family such as racism. That is why prayer, especially prayer for Christian unity, takes an even more important meaning when it takes place in the heart of the struggles against what separates us as humans created with equal dignity in the image and likeness of God.
To frame reflections, worship and prayer for the 2023 observance, the created materials focus on the theme Do good; seek justice and encourage study and consideration of Isaiah 1:12-18. As the authors of this year’s material observe:
Isaiah challenged God’s people in his day to learn to do good together; to seek justice together, to rescue the oppressed together, to defend the orphan and plead for the widow together. The prophet’s challenge applies equally to us today. How can we live our unity as Christians so as to confront the evils and injustices of our time? How can we engage in dialogue, increase awareness, understanding and insight about one another’s lived experiences?
The authors conclude, “these prayers and encounters of the heart have the power to transform us—individually and collectively.”
They conclude with a note of hope, invitation, and vital recognition for all of us to aim for this week, throughout the year, and indeed in all of lives:
Let us be open to God’s presence in all our encounters with each other as we seek to be transformed, to dismantle the systems of oppression, and to heal the sins of racism. Together, let us engage in the struggle for justice in our society. We all belong to Christ.
It really is about Christ’s mission of reconciliation in the world. It’s about striving for God’s reign. I hope all the congregations of the Diocese of New Jersey will join in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Blessings and peace,
The Right Rev. William H. Stokes
Bishop of New Jersey
 “THE PREPARATION OF THE MATERIAL FOR THE WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY 2023” from Resources for THE WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY and throughout the year—2023 published by The Faith and Order Commission of The World Council of Churches, 2023 found at 2023-WPCU-ENG.pdf (oikoumene.org)
 “Biblical Text for 2023” – from Resources for THE WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY and throughout the year—2023