While the annual observance of the "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" brings churches together for prayer and worship, this year's service may be more meaningful in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In the weeks just after the attacks, area churches gathered for worship services, prayer and counseling.
Some area churches will gather again for a local service of unity at 7 p.m. Sunday at First Presbyterian Church with the Rev. Dr. Andy Pratt speaking. The service is sponsored by the Downtown Council of Churches.
The week of prayer for Christian unity is aimed at building reconciliation among believers in Christ who are hindered by theological, historical and cultural obstacles.
Area churches involved are Centenary United Methodist, First Presbyterian, Christ Episcopal and First Baptist, which are the denominations primarily involved in the national Christians Uniting in Christ movement.
Pratt will speak about being No. 1, based on Scripture from Ephesians. There are different ways of understanding "one," Pratt said. It can mean exclusivity as in a champion mentality or it can mean uniformity, where everyone must behave in the same manner, or it can mean community, where people have feelings of inclusion and welcome.
In the 21st century, the focus is more on winners and losers, Pratt said. But churches can meet more ministry needs in a community when they work together, he added.
Sharing with neighbors
Several congregations in downtown Cape Girardeau formed a Downtown Council of Churches for just that reason. The churches and ministers were concerned about the downtown community and business district and wanted a way to become active in its revitalization, said the Rev. Bob Towner of Christ Episcopal Church.
"We've been asked to do ministry here which is sharing the gospel with our neighbors," he said.
Churches that join together for worship and ecumenical services show Christ's love and ideas to the larger community.
"From time to time, when we get together, something really powerful happens," Towner said. "Our eyes are opened and we can see providence at work in the community," often in ways not seen from behind the closed doors of individual congregations, he said.
When churches of varying denominations gather, each brings a separate gift to the table, Towner said. Just as Christ gifted individual members of a congregation differently, the same is true of denominations, he said, "so we can function as the body of Christ. Each denomination has a different strength."
Working as the body of Christ, and not always independently, "lets us do our work better together," Towner said.
The Episcopal and Evangelical Lutheran Church of America denominations have formed a partnership that allows the churches to work together.
The "Common Mission" covenant, which was approved last year after nearly 30 years of conversation between the two denominations, allows the two denominations to work together on mission projects, hold joint services, serve communion to one another and share ministers. It is not meant to serve as an agreement for merger between congregations.
Though both St. Mark Lutheran Church (ELCA) and Christ Episcopal Church in Cape Girardeau currently have full-time pastors, the two congregations are talking about joint programs in campus ministry at Southeast Missouri State University.
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