United in Prayer
By Thomas Kemper*
In contemplating the themes of prayer and mission, my mind flashes back to a time more than 25 years ago when my small United Methodist community in Germany was grappling with how to best express and celebrate the global partnerships that form our church. We turned to artist Johannes Fritz to create a logo for a conference on North-
South relations. Fritz designed a poster in which hands of different colors come together at the base of the United Methodist cross and flame, alongside the words: “United in Prayer” in multiple languages. I keep a small framed copy of the watercolor in my office as a reminder of prayer as both cornerstone and binding force in mission.
A young woman prays at the altar rail following worship at Mu’en Church in Shanghai, China. PHOTO: MIKE DUBOSE/UMNS
Prayer is the first spiritual discipline in the advocacy, support, and conduct of Christian discipleship and mission. Prayer as both attitude and action—service—took primacy in the practice of the young Wesley brothers, John and Charles, in the Holy Club they organized at Oxford University in the early 18th century. So devoted were the Wesleys to regular prayer in word and deed that they won the derision of fellows for being “methodists.” They got down on their knees before God in prayer and they also stood up and visited prisoners as in prayerful witness. John took literally St. Paul’s admonition in I Thessalonians 5:17 to “pray without ceasing,” as he would write in A Plain Account of Christian Perfection:
Whether we think of, or speak to, God, whether we act or suffer for him, all is
prayer, when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing
him. All that a Christian does, even in eating and sleeping, is prayer, when it is
done in simplicity…In souls filled with love, the desire to please God is a
I recently asked Johannes Fritz what was in his mind as he designed the “United in Prayer” poster in the early 1990s. He replied that he was thinking of the brokenness in the world—represented by barbed wire and a tear in the earth—and of a fraternal, or communal, partnership in which people learn from each other on the way toward achieving a peaceful world.
I originally found and still find two significant values in the repetition of the phrase “united in prayer” in different languages. One is the familiarity and importance of one’s mother’s tongue, the language in which one instinctively prays, and second, the reality that we are one in faith despite our cultural distinctions: different and together. Today, I also reflect on the fact that when the poster was first created, the country we now know as the Democratic of the Congo was named “Zaire”—a reminder that unity in Christ remains regardless of political and social changes, and even in the face of conflicts. And what violent conflicts and dramatic political changes this country has seen since the time it was called Zaire.
Unity in prayer that heals brokenness and division is critically needed today in global human affairs, in United Methodist experience, and within the ecumenical Christian family.
A Common Prayer
One deep wound in human affairs in the early 21st century is the growing number of displaced people, some 65 million, the most on record, uprooted by warfare, natural disaster, famine, persecution, and economic deprivation. Prayer is an integral part of our United Methodist response to the migration calamity. Global Migration Sunday (December 3, 2017) was designated as a time for the church to learn about the crisis, pray about it, and give toward solutions. Significantly, December 3 was the first Sunday in Lent of 2017, as noted by Bishop Bruce Ough of the Dakotas and Minnesota in a call to observe the Sunday by the Council of Bishops: Advent is a “time when we remember the coming birth of the Christ Child who was himself a migrant.”
Verbunden im Gebet—“United in Prayer,” is the poster designed by Johannes Fritz for a 1992 conference in Germany on North-South relations. ILLUSTRATION: COURTESY JOHANNES FRITZ AND THE EVANGELISCH METHODISTISCHE KIRCHE
United Methodists in every land and language were encouraged to join in this Prayer of Illumination:
Loving God, whose light brings hope to the world,
send your Holy Spirit to illumine our way on your bright path,
so that we may live in harmony with our neighbors from every nation
until you gather all earthly migrants into your heavenly Kingdom,
through Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.
(Bishop Ough’s prayer is available online in multiple languages including: Bulgarian, Dutch, Estonian, French, German, Kiswalihi, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai, https://umcmigration.org/resources.)
It was good for all United Methodists of many cultures and theological orientations to join in a common prayer for migrants and refugee neighbors across the globe.
Both the continuing institutional disunity within the large family of Christian churches and the important steps toward spiritual unity—notably in prayer—are much on my mind these days as we approach the 2018 World Conference on World Mission and Evangelism, set for March 8-13 in Arusha, Tanzania. Held every 10 years, the event is sponsored by the Commission of World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) of the World Council of Churches. This year’s theme is “Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship” and will develop the concept of the pilgrimage that disciples of Jesus are on, a journey led by the Holy Spirit. “Moving in the spirit” is a reminder from Ephesians 5:25 to remain hopeful in faith—no matter what happens in the world of human events.
Methodists have been among the leaders of the series of international mission conferences since the first World Missionary Conference held in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1910. Global Ministries has been especially active in the preparations for Arusha. One of the early planning meetings was held at our new headquarters in Atlanta, and one of our missionaries, the Rev. Kyeong-Ah Woo, who is seconded to the CWME, serves as coordinator for the 2018 conference. Rev. Woo, the first Christian in her family, came to the United States from South Korea in the mid-1990s and served as a US-2 short-term missionary as a young adult. She is an ordained elder in the Northern Illinois Conference and was commissioned as a global missionary in June 2017.
Rev. Kyeong-Ah Woo. PHOTO: CYNTHIA MACK
The CWME is today one of the most broadly inclusive ecumenical organizations, comprised not only of representatives of the Protestant and Eastern Orthodox members of the World Council but also of persons from the Roman Catholic Church and Pentecostal and Evangelical traditions.
In Arusha, official delegates from hundreds of churches—United Methodists with eight official representatives—will consider issues of importance to mission and evangelism on the ecumenical level as we move toward the second quarter of the 21st century. Prominent on the agenda will be implications of a remarkable 2012 commission report called Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes. This document opened new understandings of the role of mission-founded churches of the Global South and East in world mission today, recognizing the value of mission coming from what was once the “margins” but has now become part of the mission mainstream. It also stresses the essential role of health ministries in Christian mission and evangelism and the responsibility of the churches together in bearing witness to economic and social fairness across the globe. Together Towards Life concludes with a petition:
“And we pray, ‘God of Life, lead us into justice and peace!’”
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